Ninety students from community colleges across the state gathered on Iowa State’s campus in early December to compete in the Information Assurance Center’s Cyber Defense Competition.
The competition, which has been held annually for community college teams since 2007, is designed to provide students with a simulation of real-life network security threats. Teams participating in the exercise develop and implement security plans that safeguard their users and secure their network from threats presented by information assurance professionals posing as hackers. Professionals from the information assurance community judge the competitors.
This year’s event director, Patrick Turvin, participated last year as a competitor. Turvin, a freshman in computer engineering, transferred to Iowa State to learn more about the information assurance field after participating in the 2009 event as a student from Kirkwood Community College. “While I was working towards a vocational degree in local area networking management and a certificate in network security at Kirkwood, I joined a student group that shares, learns, and researches how to secure and exploit systems,” he said. “They compete in the Community College Cyber Defense Competition, and that’s how it all began for me.”
Turvin is currently an employee of the ISEAGE (Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment) research project, which provides him with the opportunity to assist with constructing and hosting cyber defense competitions.
“These competitions allow students to bridge the gap between classroom learning and possible real-life situations,” Turvin said. “We provide students with a learning environment that is supportive, but the students themselves are self-directed. By bringing in industry security experts to participate, students also learn about current events in the field and make connections for the future.”
Throughout the competition, professionals attempt to break in to systems and steal digital flags, which represent real-world, high-stakes data such as a customer information database or a payroll system. The team that is able to best ward off the hackers and also keep their systems online is declared the winner of the intense eight-hour challenge.
Teams in this year’s competition were from Des Moines Area Community College, Indian Hills Community College, Iowa Western Community College, Kirkwood Community College, Western Iowa Tech Community College, and Iowa Central Community College. Weather concerns prevented Iowa Lakes Community College and North Iowa Area Community College from attending. Iowa Central took first place, with Indian Hills Team 1 and Western Iowa Tech Team 2 taking second and third, respectively.
The Information Assurance Center hosts four competitions every year. Cyber Defense Competitions for the Iowa State student community have taken place every October since 2005, and a national competition, the competition specifically for Iowa community college students, and a competition for high school students as part of the IT-Olympics have been added as interest in the field grows.