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RBR Students Uncover "Who Killed Snooki" at NYU Poly

Team Zettabyte solves hypothetical murder mystery to take crown in national cyberforensics competition.

In a matter of only seven months, another team from has earned the highest prestige in a national technology competition, joining the ranks of .

Team Zettabyte, formed by Alec Jasanovsky (Neptune City), Emily Wicki and Michael Terpak (Union Beach), recently outwitted 150 teams from across the country in NYU Poly's High School Cyberforensics Challenge, the finals of which were held last weekend at the school's Brooklyn MetroTech Center.

Every year the competition comes up with a fictional celebrity murder mystery for students to solve, and this year, students had to find the murderer and weapon responsible for killing a character loosely based on Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, of MTV's "Jersey Shore" fame.

Cybersecurity and Networking teacher Mandy Galante, of Little Silver, said this was the third time RBR has made it to the competition's final rounds and the first time they've finished in the top three.

"I think it's really fitting that the celebrity case we solved was from 'Jersey Shore,'" said Galante, adding that cases in previous years had asked students to discover who killed "Justin Timberfake" and "Mikhail Jacksone."

Students were given four hours to follow the correct set of clues to find Snooki's killer, which turned out to be poison hair spray.

"It was almost as if they were given one of the 'Jersey Shore' cast member's phones, but it's not a real phone, so they had to research and find the special type of software that would let them open the file to search her phone," said Galante.

Once inside the phone, students were tasked with finding secret text inside of pictures, pulling GPS data from pictures, and researching topics such as credit card fraud schemes, mobile exploitation and organized crime.

"It uses a variety of skills, none of which we teach in school. What we teach in school is problem solving, and then they use that and they go with it," said Galante.

Galante said one of Team Zettabyte's members, Emily Wicki, was able to contribute without a technology background. Wicki is following an aerospace track at RBR's Academy of Engineering.

"She has fabulous logical thinking skills and she was very good at self-teaching, which is what all the team members need to have -- the willingness to say 'I don't know this but I'm going to figure it out.'"

RBR also had a second group make the finals. Luke Matarazzo (Neptune City), and CyberPatriot Jared Katzman (Little Silver) competed as Team Adminitraitor, and though they didn't win the Cyberforensics Challenge, they proved their merit in a technology quiz bowl. They took first out of all the high school teams, then jumped into the college quiz bowl and beat out teams from Carnegie Mellon and NYU Poly.

Aside from Wicki, the students are all attending RBR's Academy of Information Technology, taking Cybersecurity or Networking courses with Mrs. Galante, or Advanced Computer Science with Jeremy Milonas.

Galante said she is proud of both teams and that they are equally very talented, but said she took special notice of how well Team Zettabyte listened to each other and worked together during practice sessions.

"A lot of the time when you have a team of very, very smart people, they hear their own voice a lot, especially as teenagers. I try to get them to work as colleagues, and I think that that came out better with this group than I've ever seen," said Galante.

Who's Next?

Galante said four RBR students are currently placing very high nationally in the Cyber Foundations National Competition, which is a series of three online exams (on networking, operating systems, and systems administration), the third of which was taken this past Friday.

Then, of course, there is their national title to defend at CyberPatriot IV.

"We're going for the gusto on this CyberPatriot this year. I mean they have their eye on keeping that prize," said Galante.

Galante says she believes the competitions help in identifying students who might not have otherwise thought themselves to be particularly intelligent.

"There's kids literally just finding out in their sophomore year of high school that they're that smart, and part of it is because you've put something shiny like a trophy in front of them and said 'would you like to get that?' And while grades didn't do that for them, and learning for the sake of learning didn't do that for them, for some reason that's the kind of kid that competition does awaken their interest," Galante said.

The opportunities that open up don't hurt either. All three students from Team Zettabyte have been preaccepted to NYU Poly and will receive $14,000 per year for four years in scholarships if they decide to attend. Members of Team Adminitraitors have been offered $7,000 per year in scholarships.

"We're motivating them and we might even be rescuing them, because maybe they were never going to find their true potential, but they certainly are now," said Galante.

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