NORTH CHARLESTON - (WCSC) - The Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition is happening in North Charleston at Trident Technical College.
It's helping prepare students for STEM careers and cyber defense. High school and college students who qualify come out for a weekend long competition to help them develop their technical skills.
The event is hosted by The Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Atlantic and the South Carolina Low Country Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA).
Senior in high school, Ashley Woods, was competing Saturday with the home school support network.
"I do want to go forward in cyber defense and maybe find a job in that," Woods said.
The Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition is the place to do that. Eight high school teams qualified to compete today.
A supervisor at SPAWAR Systems Atlantic, Jeff Sweeney says employers at the competition are looking to hire interns.
"Businesses you hear about everyday being attacked by hackers and so we need cyber security professional and these students are our future," Sweeney said.
In the competition, students run a business network that is not well configured. It's up to the student-run teams to make it better, all while defending against hackers.
"I love these puzzle sort of things, you have to figure out where you're doing wrong and be ready to adapt," Woods said.
The hackers are SPAWAR volunteers. Mentors along with some corporate partners work with these students for several months before the competition.
"Here it's a real network where they're being attacked by real hackers," Sweeney said. "They get scored for keeping their services up and running and performing different business tasks."
At the competition, Governor Nikki Haley spoke about her experiences when the state's Department of Revenue was hacked and the importance of cyber defense careers.
"When I explain this to other people it sounds really boring and dry, but it's really not it's something you kind of have to experience, and kind of have a love of," Woods said.
The students also attend career development seminars and National Guard cyber security classes.
"We are able to provide them an experience that they will never see anywhere else," Sweeney said.
Cyber Defense competitions will continue with college students and professionals on Sunday and Monday. Winning teams receive awards and there are also scholarships and technology grants available.