College students on front line of cyberattacks

Green River College, UW teams qualify for cyber defense competition at Highline College

  • Wednesday, March 13, 2019 11:32am
  • News

College students studying cybersecurity from around the Pacific Northwest will participate in real-world scenarios during an upcoming competition at Highline College.

Teams from 13 institutions compete in the annual Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on March 22-24.

The event gives students practice thwarting hackers while maintaining a corporate network that cannot be replicated in a typical classroom.

Competitive training better prepares students for the workforce, said Amelia Phillips, the regional director of the event and faculty member at Highline.

“With data breaches, identity theft and other cyberattacks becoming a daily occurrence, we need to train more and more people to be successful in this field,” she said.

More and more, indeed. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be an estimated 3.5 million cybersecurity positions unfilled by 2021.

Last month, 17 colleges and universities competed in a qualifier for 12 open slots. Two teams tied, so 13 will participate in the 12th annual competition:

• Brigham Young University-Idaho (Rexburg, Idaho)

• Clover Park Technical College (Lakewood)

• Columbia Basin College (Pasco)

• The Evergreen State College (Olympia)

• George Fox University (Newberg, Oregon)

• Green River College (Auburn)

• Oregon State University (Corvallis, Oregon)

• Saint Martin’s University (Lacey)

• University of Idaho (Moscow, Idaho)

• University of Washington (Bothell)

• University of Washington (Seattle)

• Western Washington University (Bellingham)

• Whatcom Community College (Bellingham)

Highline College students participate in the event as well, not as competitors, but as designers, builders and judges.

With support from the college’s Information Technology Services staff, Highline students have designed the company network that will be used in the simulation, complete with intentional security flaws. These students are enrolled in the college’s applied bachelor’s degree program in Cybersecurity and Forensics and several applied associate degree programs: Network Security Engineer, Digital Forensics and Web/Database Developer.

During fall quarter 2018 and winter quarter 2019, between 12 and 15 Highline students have participated, depending upon their course load.

Each competing team consists of between six and eight students with a cap of two graduate students on each team. Students from at least two high schools will be on hand to participate in the National Initiative for Cyber Security Education (NICE) Challenge Project and observe the competition with the hope that the students will be inspired to pursue cybersecurity as a profession.

Open to two- and four-year colleges and universities in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the Pacific Rim Competition serves as the regional competition for the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. This year’s national championship is scheduled for April 23-25 in San Antonio, Texas.

This is Highline’s 10th year hosting the regional event and the fourth year Highline students have designed and built the scenario.

Using the computer labs on Highline’s campus, teams are tasked with maintaining a company network while they are being attacked.

Teams will need to secure the operating systems, email servers, websites and other parts of a business network. They must also update their websites, create new user accounts and perform other standard business activities while delivering excellent customer service to irate customers who call in.

“During the competition, students may be dealing with unexpected events, people being laid off, installation of a new server or other challenges while being under attack by professional hackers – also known as penetration testers,” Phillips said. The hackers will be trained professionals from government agencies, National Guard, Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and local industry.

The primary objective of the competition is to provide students with real-world challenges. The second objective is to give potential employers – the sponsors — a chance to observe students under pressure. The event will include a job fair where students will be able to interview with sponsors for potential jobs and internships.

National sponsors include National Security Agency (NSA), Palo Alto Networks and Raytheon. Regional and local sponsors include Air Force Civilian Service, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Boeing, Casaba, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, SpecterOps and UW Bothell.


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