Imagine running the computing infrastructure for the Pacific Northwest Centers for Disease Control during a major viral outbreak, which results in a full blown zombie apocalypse. Now imagine trying to keep information systems functioning during the ordeal, while being attacked non-stop by professional hackers.
For the eight students who represented Peninsula College at the 2015 Pacific Rim Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (PRCCDC) this fictitious scenario was their reality for two full days, March 21 and 22, at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington.
Fourteen other four year, two year and technical schools sent teams to compete for the glory of being crowned PRCCDC champions. Ultimately, the lessons learned, and the skills tested, by this unusual scenario were very real.
“Until students are truly in the hot seat, they don’t know what they’re capable of,” Eric Waterkotte, faculty advisor, said. “The students took a leap of faith and believed in each other. Their desire to learn outweighed their fear of failing.”
Not only did team members Robert Chisick, George Delorey, Joshua Diehl, Ian Hassel, Michael Loghry, Sarah Mullikin, Drew Ross and David Walter blaze the trail as the first team from the Olympic Peninsula to compete at such an event, they managed to finish in eighth place overall, against teams from Western Washington University, the University of Washington, Idaho State University, among others.
“As the faculty advisor for the team, it was an absolute honor to watch them work together, problem solve and dig deep during this two-day, grueling competition. The event was frightening, fun, educational and inspiring all at the same time,” Waterkotte said. “Students were able to test themselves and collect constructive feedback not only from professional hackers who worked to disrupt services, but also from the judges and industry folks who were there observing the teams.”
Industry sponsors including Microsoft, Boeing, T-Mobile, Nimble Storage, Deloitte and Splunk had the benefit of observing students and how they worked in a real world, high stakes environment. Sponsors had the opportunity to meet with students and see them perform under pressure.
This week, the team will debrief with the hackers who attacked them for two days to learn how they can improve on their performance. They will also talk with the team of graduate students from University of Idaho’s NIATEC program to hear about how they can improve their approach and strategy for next year’s event.
“They set a high bar for future teams and I am extremely proud of all of them,” Waterkotte said.