Business Weekly Interview:
How would you describe the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition?
Based on simulated real-world scenarios, CCDC is a cyber security competition that tests student’s skills in managing a corporate network that is based on actual infrastructure found in industry. The competition pitted teams from other universities in the state against each other for eight hours at state, 2 days at regionals, and 3 days at nationals, managing information technology systems. Each hour of which is meant to represent a week in the real world. The systems were under a constant attack from a team of industry cyber security professionals actively probing the networks and attempting to break into and disrupt each team’s systems. All while keeping up the core services vital to a business, and responding to business tasks that administrators might see in every day work.
The Midwest CCDC website describes the competition as “Two-year and four-year colleges and universities are putting together their top tech-savvy students to form teams to compete. These teams will build and defend their mock production business infrastructure from professional “hackers” who are given the challenge to take each team’s production systems offline and breach their security. While the teams work hard to fend off “hackers,” the competition judging staff will deploy network enhancement and upgrade challenges to teams, judging team’s performance, scoring and supporting the overall event.”
What have you seen in terms of CCDC participation leading to internships or jobs in cybersecurity?
Over the decade that Indiana Tech has competed in the collegiate cyber defense competition (and many others) we’ve seen our graduates go on to work for a wide range of companies. Dell, Cisco, Microsoft, Discover Card, Deloitte, and many other large companies. Of those graduates many are in security specific positions, while others drive their professional career with the stamina and work ethic it takes to be a part of the cyber defense team while bolstering their abilities with security specific knowledge. In the last 5 years we have seen near 100% of former team members have their choice at multiple positions directly out of school, many of which have doors opened to them because of skills that were fostered by the environment provided to them by being a part of the cyber defense team.
What do employers like about the competition? How much do cybersecurity positions pay?
There are many, many things about being a part of the Cyber Warriors that employers want to see in graduating students. First and foremost is the commitment to the craft, and the inherent work ethic needed to do so. The Cyber Warriors practice year round, multiple times a week, and it’s not uncommon to see upwards of 30-40 hours a week in practice in weeks leading up to competitions. That kind of commitment fosters a work ethic that’s less prevalent in the young workforce today than it ever has been.
The team takes what is learned in classes to a whole new level. While they may learn theory and fundamentals in class, to be able to thrive in these competitions everyone has to be as much of an expert as possible. Applying this kind of deep knowledge under the immense pressure of the competition forms the kind of employee that can take everyday tasks with ease and becomes extremely sought after.
Depending on location, industry, and many other factors, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for a graduating team member to be offered a position for $50-70k a year.
To what extent does performance in the competition come down to natural talent of the team members and how much of the outcome depends on practice and preparation? How important is teamwork to winning or performing well in the contest?
While “natural talent” does play a role, it comes down to a student’s general ability to comprehend the advanced topics and put in the hours to master these skills. We’ve had students come to us with little to no prior knowledge at all and upon graduation hold multiple industry certifications, ready to take on the giants in industry. It all comes down to work ethic, drive, and their mental and emotional ability to commit.
How tough is the Midwest region? How has the regional winner tended to do at the national level? How has Indiana Tech done in the competition?
We were told at regionals last year that the Midwest is one of the toughest regions in the country, along with the Mid-Atlantic region. Just like with any sports team, it varies year to year but generally the teams that advance to nationals from the Midwest region have done fairly well. Indiana Tech has won 7/10 state competitions, advanced to regionals 8/10 times where we’ve done very well, and ended up winning twice to move on to nationals.
Where do you find team members? How serious do they take the competition and how much do they prepare for it? How do they prepare for it? What are they doing to prepare at different times of year?
Team members are all Indiana Tech students, which are derived from open tryouts that we hold each year. Competition is without a doubt taken very seriously. The team members practice all year for these competitions, some of which for 3 or 4 years in a row.
We hold multiple practices a week. One for the whole team, and then sectionals for the groupings of specialties (Networking, Windows, Linux, etc.). Practices are kind of like weekly meetings in a business environment where we get together and talk about what we’ve been working on during the week, what struggles we’ve had, how we’re doing on certain projects, and what we plan on doing the next week. Everything from sitting down studying a technology, to building new environments to put security practices to work by attempting to compromise said services.
The Cyber Warriors compete in up to a dozen different competitions a year, one of which is the CCDC, our flagship. The competitions we’re doing during that time of the year will determine the types of practice. Some competitions are more concentrated on offensive security, some more defensive, while others can have a reconnaissance or forensic focus.
How does the contest fit in with the university’s cybersecurity courses and how do the courses fit in with its information technology program?
The Cyber Warriors take what is taught in classes to a new height. The mix of classes taught between security, networking, programming, and systems administration give the students a great foundation to launch their earlier careers with being a part of the intense program that is the cyber defense team.