A Secure Future for Cyber Security Students

Embry-Riddle student John-Michael Linares

There’s a place for a cyber defender in every business, and Embry-Riddle student John-Michael Linares is helping other young people find the best path to becoming a cyber security professional. 

“As we move to more companies collecting and storing huge amounts of customer information, data breeches become more serious and can have a devastating impact, especially for small companies. I believe cyber security is necessary for any company,” said Linares, freshman in Cyber Security and Intelligence on the Prescott, AZ,  campus. 

CyberPatriot Competition team at Embry-Riddle Prescott

Linares first became interested in cyber security through the high school competition CyberPatriot at Troy High School in Fullerton, CA. In 2014, as a junior, he helped his team to a first-place finish in the digital crime scene challenge and fourth place overall at the CyberPatriot national competition near Washington, D.C. 

“In the digital crime scene challenge, a mannequin is set up with digital and non-digital hardware on him and teams have to find a piece of information in the digital hardware by hacking into it. We were the first team in the competition’s history to achieve a perfect score. I’m very proud of that,” said Linares. 

Prior to the national competition, the student teams compete in multiple challenges designed to test their defensive skills. The challenges progressively become more difficult and ultimately include live hacking attacks. 

“The first 10 minutes of a challenge is dedicated to securing your machine,” said Linares. “At the advanced competitions like the Master Networking Challenge, your team is given eight virtual computers to secure in four hours. The difference is that now live hackers are working to counter your efforts, like disabling critical services and deleting files, essentially trying to poke holes in your system. It’s exciting!” 

Embry-Riddle offers scholarships to incoming freshmen who are CyberPatriot participants and has been a sponsor of CyberPatriot since 2013, which is how Linares first connected with the University. This year, he attended the national competition as a student representative of Embry-Riddle. 

CyberPatriot Competition Awards

“I thought it was really cool to see the students who are just a year behind me,” said Linares. “They are where I was last year, and I can’t wait to see them on campus. It’s also really great that so many CyberPatriot competitors are wanting to come to Riddle. The growth of the Cyber Security program will really be accelerated with so many bright minds around.” 

Linares has stayed connected to the teams at Troy High School and helped to mentor eight of them this year. Two teams qualified for nationals in the All-Service Division consisting of JROTC, Civil Air Patrol and Naval Sea Cadets. One of the Troy teams achieved second in that division. Over 3,300 teams competed this past year in all three divisions including middle schools. See the results here. 

“Between the Troy teams and alumni, I had 12 friends at nationals with me, two of them representing other organizations,” said Linares. “The best part for me was when one of the Troy teams was called up for second place. Walking up on that stage for an overall award is something that I was not able to do in high school. I’m incredibly proud that the team that I helped to train had the opportunity that I did not.” 

This year’s competition included representatives from companies like Northrop Grumman, Facebook, Cisco and Norton, in addition to government agencies, providing students and Linares an opportunity to meet with and talk to current cyber professionals. 

“The networking went amazingly well,” said Linares. “Several VPs and directors of companies and agencies told me, ‘I would love to see your application show up on my desk.’ I am currently in the process of following up with one of these, and it looks as though I might have an internship in cyber security this summer.” 

Linares hopes his knowledge and experience can benefit future students interested in cyber security. In the fall, he will help mentor Troy High School’s CyberPatriot teams and has been asked to be an advisor to a new cyber security academic program for the Troy Tech Program. At Embry-Riddle, he will be a Residential Assistant in freshmen housing and a College of Security and Intelligence Campus Academic Mentor (CAM). 

For more information about the CyberPatriot scholarships to incoming freshmen, contact Embry-Riddle Admissions at Prescott@erau.edu

Learn more about Cyber Intelligence & Security and Software Engineering, Cyber Security Track at Embry-Riddle.