Record number of students to fight off hackers, try to keep computer systems safe

Cyber Defense Competition

Teams of Iowa State students work to keep hackers out of their computer systems during a recent Cyber Defense Competition. Larger photo. Photo by ISEAGE Cyber Defense Competitions.

AMES, Iowa – More than 200 Iowa State University students will spend a Saturday beating back eight hours of computer attacks.

It’s the latest edition of the annual Cyber Defense Competitions at Iowa State. It will run from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 21 on the first floor of Coover Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

It will be the largest single Cyber Defense Competition ever on a university campus, according to Doug Jacobson, a University Professor of electrical and computer engineering and one of the contest’s organizers. The previous record at Iowa State was nearly 150 students who competed last year.

“It’s very chaotic,” Jacobson said. “There will be computers and students everywhere.”

Iowa State students have been organizing the competitions since 2005. They’re designed to immerse students in real-world computer security challenges. Winning teams are able to secure their networks, document their strategies and maintain a usable network. Top teams will qualify for a national competition and win prizes.

The competitions are made possible by ISEAGE, the Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment developed at Iowa State. The technology creates a virtual Internet for cyber security research and training.

The contest features teams of four to eight students of all ages and majors. There will be freshmen and graduate students, engineers and students from the liberal arts and sciences. Jacobson said there’s even a crash course designed to get new students ready to compete.

All the students will need to be prepared for a challenge. They’ll be up against cyber security professionals from some industry partners of Iowa State’s Information Assurance Center. Those professionals, as well as some Iowa State graduate students, attack the students’ networks and try to bring them down.

“This is all designed to get students excited about cyber security,” Jacobson said. “Yes, this is a great way to get them to learn. But this is also meant to be fun. There’s a party atmosphere. The students love the chaotic nature of it. They’re not bored.”

The competition is managed by Iowa State’s Information Assurance Center and run by the Information Assurance Student Group. Financial support is provided by the Boeing aerospace company and PwC, an international company that provides auditing and consulting services to businesses.