Thwarting the Hackers

by Stephaniee Bailey

Horizon Reporter

  Hackers are trying to break in. In order to stop them the IT (Information Technology) Professionals of Tomorrow gather every Wednesday and most Mondays to practice. The club is preparing for the upcoming Pacific Rim Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Wash., the weekend of March 19-20.  

     The club has gone to the competition every year since 2007. At the competition the students are given a pre-set test network that has critical services of a fake business. The task for the student team is to keep it running while the hackers, or red team, attempt to take those services out.

     The team can attain points by keeping their services running while being hacked. Points are deducted if services go down and more points are taken if the student team doesn’t notice.

     Members of the club practice for this by setting up a mock network and defending it against the 100 level classes as they attempt to break in and take down their network.

     “People have to work together as a team,” said Corrine Sande, the club’s advisor.

     In past years the club has placed as high as third, said Sande, who sends eight students out of the estimated 15 to 20 students who regularly attend the club meetings. She selects students based on ability and participation.  They need “to be able to learn different operating systems,” Sande said.

     Whatcom Community College is one of only two community colleges who compete at this competition. The rest are universities like Western and DeVry. Chris Johnson, this year’s captain, said that how they do in the competition “depends on who the red team is.” Some years it is easier than others.

     In preparation for the competition Sande sets up a network in the Baker 103 lab and then assigns them tasks to do with the network. “Meanwhile, a group of students are trying to compromise the network to simulate the attackers,” Sande said.  The students receive points for keeping their services running and completing the tasks that are assigned.

     These test situations are simulations of what real companies such as Amazon go through on a daily basis. This makes the club an excellent opportunity for students to get experience for the workforce.

     Two students who participated in the club in recent years were discovered in the competition and received internships and eventually jobs with companies like Intellectual Property Ventures in Bellevue, Sande said.

     “Most of the club is participation in the competition,” said Mary Wiegand, who has been a member since 2007. “It’s an excellent opportunity to get into the workforce, specifically working with computers and networks.” She recalled that last years club captain received an internship working with security at Boeing as soon as she graduated, which is uncommon.

     This past November the club spent a Saturday participating in a nationwide virtual competition similar to the one they will attend mid-March. Whatcom was one of only two schools from Washington. According to Sande, the competitions will all eventually be virtual except for the final which is in Austin, Texas this year. If Whatcom’s team wins at the competition in Seattle, they will be paying their own way to the final in Austin.

     Another aspect of the IT Professionals of Tomorrow is the Help Desk that they hold on Mondays and Tuesdays downstairs in the Heiner Center. It is the club’s job to maintain this free help on a regular basis. “It’s all very organized,” said Wiegand. The club recently got tools such as screwdrivers and power supply testers to help them provide this service.

     The club also plans to attend an the annual event at Bellingham Technical College called Linuxfest Northwest. Linux is an operating system, an alternative to Windows. This event will be held April 30- May 1 and parking, admission, exhibits and presentations are all free.

     “I’m into computers,” said Jeff Long, member since 2009. He likes the club because of the “ability to play with and learn more about technology.”

     “My favorite part is that we get to work with physical routers and switches,” Long said. He explained that Whatcom has Cisco hardware to practice with whereas most other schools do most of their work online.

     The club is for people who have an interest in computers and can learn, said Sande. “It’s a good way to meet other people who have an interest in computers”.

     Sande plans a presentation in May to talk about the competition and advice on personal computers.

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