Digital kung-fu

by James Hearne

Horizon Reporter

The Whatcom Community College IT Professionals of Tomorrow may not be athletes in the strictest sense of the word, but they work as hard as those who trod the turf.

On Saturday, March 25, that hard work paid off in a major way, as the Whatcom IT Professionals of Tomorrow club placed third in the Pacific Rim Cyber Defense Competition. Held at Highline Community College, it features similar teams from 11 different universities, colleges and technical schools from around the Pacific Northwest.

Corrinne Sande, the advisor for the club, said that she was thrilled with how they performed. “Our team was very professional,” she said. “I was really proud of them.”

The competition itself is fairly straightforward. One team, designated the blue team, is made up of “defenders,” who create a fake business network, complete with a website, email, and other features. The red team, consisting of penetration testers (or pen testers for short) is tasked with trying to shut down this network. At random intervals, the judging panel, designated as the white team, tries to access or interact with the network in some way, like sending an email, or accessing the website. If they can, the corresponding team scores points.

The Whatcom team’s third place finish was all the more impressive, given that their network had been set up improperly and had to be fixed. That meant that they could not score any points. “They were dead in the water for the first half of the day,” Sande said.

John Chapman, one of the team members, said that the competition was really intense. “I don’t want to use the word ‘brutal,’” he said, with a laugh. “But it was constant stress.”

This tournament is far from just an academic exercise. With hacking becoming a much more visible problem, the skills on display at tournaments like these are in high demand.

Attending the tournament were representatives from private companies and government agencies. Among them were Microsoft, Cisco, the National Security Agency, and even the CIA.

Several team members were approached and were discussing job offers and interviews. “The employers come to us,” Chapman said.

“I was very proud of them,” said Sande, referring to the team. “They’re going to go far.”

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