The Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition brought 12 schools together from April 1-3 at, Highline College in Des Moines, with Western Washington University’s team placing second.
The two-day competition divided students against security professionals that do penetration testing, as students were tasked with defending a virtual network. The opposing team would then try to break into their server and take control over their virtual network.
“The red teams are professionals. Some work for Boeing, Raytheon, or Amazon, big companies like that,” said Austin Voecks, from Hope Mills, N.C., and captain of Western’s cyber defense team. “We have to keep them out of our networks and keep the servers up.”
Various parts of systems are expected to remain operating as the competition goes on. Western’s team members distributed the work into what they were best at, such as windows administration, networking, managing web pages, answering phone calls or making policies.
David Bover, computer science professor and faculty advisor of Western’s cyber defense team, said the key to being part of a competition like this is to be able to see the big picture of a situation because everything happens at once and knowing which problem to fix first is important. The second aspect Bover said, was to have a good sense of humor, especially under pressure.
“I wanted students to be able to learn from each other, progressing their own knowledge, and coping with stress,” Bover said.
One of the many challenges at the competition involved a website that the security professionals had defaced. The database was vulnerable to attacks and the security professionals were able to change information around. On top of that, when virtual clients requested their web page, it would pull up the wrong content.
“They put all these crazy memes on the site, they tried to have fun with it,” Voecks said. “But at the same time, we’re losing points whenever they do that.
While the goal was to keep the professionals out of their systems and keeping their virtual clients happy, there were teams that couldn’t handle the pressure. Voecks said he was proud of the team’s effort this year, with keeping their morale up and not getting discouraged.
“The competition itself went really well this year, we did a great job communication and everyone knew their roles,” said Voecks, “We got second place but we were so close to first, we were just two percent away from winning.”
Testing these teams’ multitasking skills of fixing databases, defending the network, and managing web pages provides the security professionals some insight on potential interns or employees down the road as well.
Voecks and the team met the professionals from Raytheon, who were the assigned security professionals that targeted their network.
“These companies sponsor the competitions for one reason only,” Bover said. “To find potential employees because there’s thousands of job vacancies.”
The FBI and companies such as Boeing, Raytheon and Amazon sponsor these competitions to seek interns because there is an increasing demand for security professionals. For Voecks, the competition provided a platform to find out what he wants to do in security and gain that experience.
“I’m thinking I’d like to do some kind of auditing after I graduate, it’s like having another set of eyes for a program,” said Voecks. “It interests me because it’s really challenging.”