KOKOMO, Ind. —To be one of the good guys in the cyber security world, you have to think like the bad guys — but one step faster.
Eight students in an Indiana University Kokomo informatics class practiced their skills in cryptography, hacking, and wireless access exploitation, in the National Cyber League (NCL) competition. The competition is a defensive and offensive puzzle-based, capture-the-flag style program, showcasing students’ skills against cybersecurity challenges they will likely face in the workforce.
“It’s a good opportunity for informatics students to experience just one of the many career opportunities available to them with this degree,” said Chen Zhong, assistant professor of informatics. “We learn these skills in the classroom, and the competition allows them to practice what they’ve learned in real-world situations.”
Deborah Fortier participated out of curiosity, thinking her military police background might make cyber security a good option for her.
“I think the class itself, and the competition, creates a big overall picture of everything we learned, and how to put it all together, so we understand what we’re doing and how everything works,” she said. “It showed me an area I didn’t know existed in informatics, and opened my eyes to the opportunities available.”
Adam Vaughn, Logansport, also had no experience with cyber security before the spring semester — now he’s focusing on it, with plans to make it his career after he graduates.
“The competition is a way to practice ethical hacking, without breaking any rules or laws, to hone better skills, and be a more marketable asset to companies looking for people to prevent them from being victims of fraud,” he said.
The IU Kokomo team placed in the top third of more than 3,000 students competing.
Fortier, who had IU Kokomo’s highest score, said their success was a great self-esteem booster for her, as an older student who didn’t grow up using computers.
“We were able to apply some of our knowledge, and really feel like we can compete with our academic peers, and see where we stand,” she said. “It definitely built my confidence.”
Students began learning cyber security skills at the beginning of the spring semester, and practiced them leading up to the competition in April. The three-day contest includes exercises such as helping law enforcement locate information using publicly available data and tools, deciphering hidden messages, tracking hackers, password cracking, log analysis, network traffic analysis, breaking into poorly protected networks, securing a network, and finding and demonstrating vulnerabilities in web systems.
“It really solidified some of the fundamentals we learned in class,” said Fortier.
Vaughn said he’s used his skills in real-life, identifying vulnerabilities in the Wi-Fi at a restaurant in his hometown.
“That’s what we are trying to do as a whole with ethical hacking, to know the information that could be used for bad purposes, and closing off that weakness,” he said. “If I can go to a restaurant and identify it and get free wings, I’m all for it.”
Students each received an NCL scouting report at the end of the competition, which they can add to résumés when seeking employment in this field.
Additional participating students were Zachary Courtney, Bringhurst; Evan Pattengale, Seth Foresman, and Sameer Karali, Kokomo; Moises Balderas, Logansport; and Lindsey Thomas, Tipton.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.