The Charger Blog

Cyber Sleuths Investigate Drones and Solve Cyber Forensic Challenges in Summer Academy

The Tagliatela College of Engineering’s GenCyber Agent Academy, the first of its kind in the state, is supported by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation.

January 7, 2019

By Jackie Hennessey, contributing writer

Summer Academy students
Students work on a variety of projects

Kaitlyn Sandor spent six days immersed in the world of cybersecurity at the high school GenCyber Agent Academy at the University of New Haven. Her favorite part was a scavenger hunt, using an app created by Teaching Assistant Justin Grannis. The high school campers fanned out across the entire campus, exploring the University while "we worked to solve challenging cybersecurity problems."

"I also loved the Python coding classes because it covered the basics and encouraged more experienced programmers to try something new with difficult challenges," she said.

This was no `dangle your feet in the lake’ kind of summer camp. GenCyber Agent Academy was rigorous, intense and exciting, said Liberty Page, Tagliatela College of Engineering practitioner in residence in computer science.

Each morning began with a talk by experts in the field – from an FBI agent to the owner of a "white hat" or ethical hacking firm. Then they hunkered down for courses in coding, the Internet of Things, Cyber Forensics and Ethical Hacking. The high school students had the chance to do their own research projects and collaborated in teams on a variety of cyber forensic challenges.


They flew a drone and forensically investigated where that drone had been. They learned about the undergraduate and graduate cyber research work going on at the University. Tagliatela College of Engineering undergraduate and graduate students help law enforcement and organizations solve real cases, identifying vulnerabilities in systems and helping close them up. "It’s important work and we want high school students to see the kinds of research they could be doing," Page said.

The academy faculty also discussed the many possible career paths in a field expected to grow by 30 percent in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The first of its kind in the state, GenCyber Agent Academy encourages traditionally underrepresented students to delve into cyber security forensics. In 2016, Ibrahim (Abe) Baggili, the camp’s principal investigator and Elder Family endowed chair, Frank Breitinger, assistant professor of computer science, and Page applied for and received funding from the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation so that 40 students, an equal number of females and males, could take part, with all of their costs covered by the grant.

Baggili said it’s critical to teach the next generation of Americans "to defend cyberspace and bridge the knowledge gap, and gender gap in cybersecurity."

"GenCyber Agent Academy was rigorous, intense and exciting."Liberty Page

"While there is a huge talent shortage in the field, two out of three high schoolers say the idea of a career in cybersecurity had never been mentioned to them," he said. "It is imperative that we take action as an institution of higher education to offer students an opportunity at a career that will not only improve the security posture of the nation, but also offer our graduates a stable future quality of life given that the incomes in that space are extremely competitive."

"We received 160 applications for 40 slots," Page said. The 40 students, grades 9-12, came from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Florida. "They were a wonderful group of young men and women, all extraordinarily talented," she added.

After learning how people construct phishing emails containing links to websites made to look real "but are actually designed to steal information," Sandor shared that with senior citizens at the Madison Library’s Teen Tech support program where she volunteers.

"It’s important work and we want high school students to see the kinds of research they could be doing."Liberty Page

She also shared what she had learned with members of her high school’s Hacking Club. The club was able to identify and alert school officials to a potential vulnerability in one of the school’s learning management systems, which the IT department was able to quickly remedy, said David Buller, a Daniel Hand math and computer science teacher and advisor to the Hacking Club.

"Programs such as the GenCyber Academy give high school students a chance to develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills in an authentic, engaging, real-world setting, while also exploring potential career paths," Buller said. "And when students bring that experiential learning back to the high school classroom, it enriches our discussions and brings our curriculum to life."

This past summer, Sandor returned to the camp as a special agent/counselor, excited "to learn new techniques and skills as well as share what I learned last summer with new participants," she said. "The camp encouraged diversity and inclusion, which I loved because I got to meet so many new people and make new friends."