The University of West Florida Cyber Club placed first in the college division this past weekend in CyberThon 2017, the third annual cybersecurity challenge event hosted by the AFCEA Blue Angels Pensacola Challenge at Naval Air Station Pensacola National Flight Academy. CyberThon is a community event designed to give high school and college students hands-on experience in cyber defense and engagement procedures with mentoring from cybersecurity experts.
Teams scored points by answering a series of questions crafted by cybersecurity experts from government, military and industry. The questions covered cybersecurity, network monitoring, cryptography and steganography in a simulated online financial system designed by Navy Federal Credit Union.
Judges penalized teams that requested a hint for specific challenges by reducing their raw-point totals. The UWF team requested no hints and avoided point deductions.
“Our team correctly answered all of the questions viewable on the game board without using a single hint,” said Dustin Mink, assistant director of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity.
Nine students represented UWF – student lead John Barlow, Jessica Aguilar, Shawn Bragg, Debbie Gartman, Sam Janicki, Denny Loucks, Cody Mahaffey, Zachary Mingus and Bhavyansh Mishra.
“From a student perspective, it’s very interesting to see industry professionals working with high school students, elementary school students and middle school students, giving everyone across all ages a chance to participate in cyber activities, a melding of the minds of the industry,” Barlow said. “Here in Pensacola, having that intertwining is such an integral part of the cybersecurity business.”
Mink served as faculty team lead, while Dr. Amit Mishra, assistant professor in the UWF Department of Computer Science, contributed as a faculty mentor.
A total of 141 students ranging from elementary school to college participated in the two-day competition. It was the largest competition to date, an increase from 18 students participating in the inaugural challenge in 2015 and 81 in 2016.
“Competitions such as CyberThon provide valuable experiences that help prepare students for future careers in cybersecurity, including hands-on practice and opportunities to network with experts in the field,” said Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, director of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity. “They also help expand interest in cybersecurity careers.”
UWF students benefited from interacting with some of the leading cybersecurity authorities in the region at the event.
“Our students had the opportunity to field their resumes with a variety of industry professionals, from cybersecurity professionals to chief information officers of large corporations,” Mink said.