AU uses ‘Capture the Flag’ challenge to sharpen students’ cyber skills

Think of it as a game of “king of the hill.”

 

Teams of students around different tables at the J. Harold Harrison Education Commons competed Thursday to break into a computer network and then tried to prevent others from getting in as part of a challenge during the Cyber Georgia @ Augusta University event.

Officially called Capture the Flag , teams have to think both offensively and defensively, said Dr. Joanne Sexton, founding dean of the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences at AU.

“You have to know how you can be attacked in order to defend,” she said.

The challenge was actually put on by the information technology company Leidos and AU was grateful it did because the school’s cost would have been around $250,000 to build up a similar scenario, Sexton said. That will become easier next year when the school moves into the new Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center under construction now at the AU Riverfront Campus off Reynolds Street, she said.

“When we move down to the center, this is something that we are going to be able to do and we’re going to build that out so that we start holding our own scenarios and authoring our own exercises,” Sexton said. “But that will take time to get us there.”

Exercises like this are good for sharpening your skills, said Thomas Gordon, 30, a junior at AU.

“It goes hand in hand,” he said. “I feel like a competition like this is pretty good because it forces you to think about things offensively and defensively. There’s some pretty sophisticated ways to get into a system.”

Currently working in IT, Gordon said that while some might think this sort of thing only happens in movies or happens very rarely, the reality is much different.

“Hacking is a very real thing,” he said. “It happens all of the time, every day.”

Natesha Harned, 21, wasn’t sure what to expect from her first challenge and thought it might be dull but it was anything but that, she said.

“It was exciting,” said Harned, a junior.

She came to the first Georgia Cyber conference a few years ago and it changed her mind about a career in the field.

“Just hearing the speakers there really encouraged me to change my major” from sociology, Harned said. “It seems interesting and it is something that is needed. This conference changed my career path.”

She was a little hesitant at first to go into such a male-dominated field but that appears to be changing.

“There are more scholarship out there for women and minorities so I think it is becoming more friendly and more encouraging for us,” Harned said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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