Cyber Security program

(PCHS Cyber Security students work on different solutions to CTF challenges.)

When Pulaski County students put their minds to something, expect results. Those results came recently in the form of a big win for the Pulaski County High School Cyber Security students during a contest at Radford University.


The contest involved a Capture the Flag contest with approximately 75 challenges. To solve each challenge, teams were required to crack a secret code that is embedded in computer languages. The categories for these challenges included Computer Ethics, Reconnaissance, Networking, Linux, Programming, and Cryptography. Questions have points values based on the complexity of the question.


To make the competition even more challenging, it is not a local event. Teams from across the United States participated, including approximately 800 participants and almost 300 teams. Teams in the competition came from Virginia, California, Arkansas, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, and many other states.


The teams were also not limited to high school students. Teams from colleges, universities, and computer science trade schools were also included in the makeup of the teams. The Pulaski County team was also working on an abbreviated schedule, only able to use seven of the 10 days in schools to complete the tasks.


In the end, the team of Jonathan Irvine, Shawn Burton, Luke Price, River Alexander, Eli Duke, Caleb Hosey, and Sean Wines, coached by Bunchy Compton, not only gained experience, but they also finished with high marks. The Pulaski County team finished 31st out of 294 teams from across the nation. On top of that, the Pulaski County students also finished well ahead of several other area teams.


With the list of the top 150 teams released, Virginia Western Community College was the highest finishing team in the area with a 28th place showing. The Cougars came in at 31st. Albemarle County finished 51st overall. Radford High School was 64th. Giles High School was 75th. Blacksburg High School entered three teams, along with teams from Christiansburg and Salem, but they were not listed in the top 150.


With the final results in, Pulaski County High School finished first among all New River Valley high schools and first in the region.


“Students have to have a high level of skill to research and earn points for a flag,” Mr. Compton said. “Many questions take hours to sort through complex data and interpret the code.  We practice these skills in classroom assignments throughout the year.  Our students have had training in Cybersecurity, Programming, Networking, and Cryptography. Teams must complete each flag to earn points. Coaches (teachers) are not allowed to give solutions. Some challenges were so complicated no teams solved the challenge. Our guys are talented and earned an excellent finish.”


Mr. Compton was also thankful for the support the team has received from the school and school system.


“PCHS implemented Cybersecurity training in 2016, thanks to the support of our Superintendent, Dr. Siers, and the School Board,” Compton said. “The winning team has completed three years of courses in Cybersecurity, Networking, Systems Technology, and Programming to learn advanced computer skills. The result is a first-place finish.”


Official notification from Dr. Joe Chase of the Radford University School of Computing and Information Services came earlier in the week that the team will now advance to the next level of competition, but there were also some added bonuses for the group.


“Your Pulaski County High School team, Jager, placed first in the Radford University Capture the Flag Competition,” Dr. Chase said.  “The first-place finish for the Virginia Department of Education Region 7 earns your team an invitation to the RUSecure CTF Final Round. Congratulations to your team captain, Shawn Burton, and your coach, Bunchy Compton. This year’s final round will consist of challenges in Defensive Security, Hashing, Cryptography, Networking, IoT and Reconnaissance.”


In addition to earning the top finish in the area and qualifying for the RUSecure CTF final round, the members of the team also earned a $500 Radford University scholarship to study Computer Science and/or Cybersecurity at RU.


“We would just like to say a special thanks to Dr. Chase and the Radford University Computer Tech Department,” Mr. Compton said. “Hosting a competition of this type has allowed students from across the country the chance to learn and grow in this field. It was a great benefit to everyone involved and we appreciate them offering us and everyone else this opportunity.”