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Saturday, June 23, 2018

WCC Cyber Security Team Places Second in State Competition

A team of WCC cyber sleuths placed second among Michigan competitors at the Michigan Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition this month in Grand Rapids.

Each team had to defend its systems—both hardware and software—from a team of hackers comprised of security experts. The first line of defense was to secure the system with software updates, said WCC team member Mike Steklac. “One system might have had an older version of Windows, another might be Linux-based,” he said. “We had only half an hour to secure our systems before the red team started attacking. A ceasefire was called only long enough to eat lunch. Then it was five more hours of defending the network.”

Steklac said that members of WCC’s CompSec Club, a student group that encourages safe computer and networking practices, considered entering the competition in early December. Preparations started to come together in late January. While many club members prepared for the competition, the list was eventually reduced to eight for the team. Besides Steklac, they included:

  • Kenji Aoki
  • Nick Clark
  • Hans Kokx
  • Nick Maxwell
  • John Parott
  • Max Ramirez
  • Robert Woolson, captain

“We picked machines to study that we thought we could best defend because we didn’t have a lot of time to get ready,” said Steklac. “Nick Maxwell set up a virtual network so we could practice. We were on campus the whole week of spring break getting ready for the competition.”

The students also practiced together every Friday evening. Steklac said that WCC faculty helped a lot. “Mike Galea gave a presentation on how to program and secure a router and another on programming a firewall appliance,” he said. “Bill Reichert helped me out by providing textbooks and labs when the computer I would be defending was downgraded to the 2003 version of Windows Server. Doug Cox attended meetings and helped the team prepare.”

“Significant game-day contributions came from Hans Kokx, Nick Maxwell, and Mike Steklac, who parried a relentless stream of attacks on their network and systems,” said Neil Gudsen, who traveled with the team as faculty advisor.

“Rob was the organizational guy for the team. With limited time to prepare for this event, that was no easy task. Nick was also crucial in keeping the team together and is perhaps the most versatile individual on the team. Mike was very disciplined in preparing for the competition and gathered reams of information on system vulnerabilities and techniques to harden systems before the event. 

“The rest played important roles, too. Kenji Aoki and Nick Clark have considerable skills in securing systems and networks and were stalwart in helping to keep the group together over the weeks preceding the competition. John and Max were the cool heads in the group and they helped to keep things in focus for the team when the intensity level of the competition got high.”  

“Every now and then (during the competition) we were given an assignment while we were under attack, like setting up an email site,” said Steklac. “It was a real high-pressure situation. There was even a guy who tried to scan the room with a hidden camera under the ruse that he was picking up trash. We kicked him out pretty quick. We had a very talented team. We were very happy to come in second; it was really close up until the end.”

In addition to testing the mettle of new cyber security professionals, Collegiate Cyber Defense Network Competitions provide feedback for schools to examine their security and information technology curriculum. Over 300 students compete in the Midwest each year. A team from Baker College will represent Michigan at the CCDC regional competition in April.

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