As the youngest member of the U.S. Cyber Games team, 17-year-old Beverly Hills High School Senior Jayden Bulexa will be competing on a global stage at the International Cyber Security Challenge in Athens, Greece, in June 2022.
This will be the first time the competition has taken place and it will bring teams from around the world to compete in games designed to test competitors’ skills in cybersecurity. During an Oct. 5 draft that was similar to professional sports drafts, Bulexa was selected for the team because of his skills in web security, binary exploitation, cryptography and reverse engineering. He is the only member of the 20-person team who is still in high school.
“I think it’s a really cool thing to be the youngest one on the team,” Bulexa told the Courier. “I can learn from the older people because they have more experience, and they can show me the ropes.”
The competition is for ages 8-26. Fortunately, Bulexa will be turning 18 before June 2022. He has been interested in cybersecurity since middle school and started entering small cyber competitions as a freshman in high school. When a chance to join the U.S. Cyber Games came up this year, Bulexa took his shot at making the team.
“One day I saw an ad for a cyber competition, and I was pretty interested and then I started competing,” Bulexa said. He entered the U.S. Cyber Open competition and was selected from there to go on to the Cyber Combine which invites the top 60 competitors from the open event to train and compete together. “Over the last couple of months, I started training with the team. We had these little weekly challenges, and then I got selected to be on the team.”
As if representing the U.S. and Beverly Hills in Athens was not impressive enough, Bulexa is on the school track team and is the captain of the science Olympiad. He also develops apps on the side and is simultaneously enrolled at Santa Monica College where he is poised to receive two Associates Degrees next year, one in Computer Science and one in Computer Engineering.
“It takes a big chunk of my day, but I manage to find a way to balance all of it,” said Bulexa.
While the Cyber Security Challenge is hosted in a spirit of fun and healthy competition, there is a serious underlying reason it exists. With recent high-profile cyber-attacks like the 2020 attack on technology company SolarWinds that left parts of the U.S. federal government exposed, cybersecurity is of growing concern to leaders around the world. President Joe Biden issued an executive order May 12 aimed at modernizing and protecting government networks in the U.S.
The international competition is aimed at creating a forum for identifying the world’s top young talent in cybersecurity. It also hopes to raise interest in the cybersecurity field among young people as public and private sector institutions are in a race to shore up their vulnerabilities.
The Cyber Security Challenge includes games to simulate real-world cyber-attack scenarios in a fun competitive setting. Some games are puzzle-like competitions known as “capture the flag” games. To capture a cyber flag, teams find vulnerabilities that are intentionally coded into a system, and they exploit them for points. There will also be “king of the hill” games in which teams compete for network supremacy by attacking, controlling and defending as much of a target network as they can.
Bulexa said the hardest part of the games is the preparation and research and then being able to apply that research to problems that come up in the competition.
“You’re not really sure what you’re trying to research, but after a couple hours of researching you kind of know where you’re trying to go,” Bulexa said.
In addition to preparing for the competition in June and keeping up with schoolwork, Bulexa is applying to four-year colleges. He has his eye set on Stanford University, according to his mom Alina.
“It’s a big deal for him because it’s a big competition,” Alina told the Courier. “It’s an important event and I think it will help put Beverly Hills on the map because he’s the only one representing the West Coast.”
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Bulexa said. “I’m really grateful and thankful that I got on the team. I put a lot of hard work into it.”