Team of UA Students Competes in National Cybersecurity “Capture the Flag” Competition

From the January 2018 Desktop News | The University of Alabama’s new undergraduate cybersecurity team competed in their first national cyber “capture the flag” competition involving virtual security simulations at financial firms.

The competition, which occurred in October, brought ten teams from different areas around the United States to St. Petersberg, Florida. Each team competed in multiple rounds, which involved different IT scenarios that companies face daily.

“The competition consisted of over four hours of non-stop team-based student hacking,” Dr. Matthew Hundall, one of the faculty advisors, said.  “A map of different questions is presented to each team and as they successfully answer questions, additional questions are unlocked. At random points, teams are called up to participate in physical hacking challenges such as lock picking, drone flying, and puzzle solving.”

The sponsor of the competition, Raymond James, uses the cyber “capture the flag” simulation as part of their new talent recruitment program, allowing students to meet potential employers in the cybersecurity world.

“In line with the firm’s strategic efforts to recruit high caliber talent,” Raymond James said in a press release, “this event helped to identify top IT students with potential to fill information security full time and ADP [Accelerated Development Program] roles as well as internships here at Raymond James.”

Faculty advisors Dr. Matthew Hundall and Dr. Adam Ghazi-Tehrani led a team of undergraduate students to their first competition, coming in first in the pre-competition. Ghazi-Tehrani, an assistant professor in criminology and criminal justice, and Hundall, the associate director for the Institute of Business Analytics and an assistant professor in management information systems, teamed up to invest in undergraduate students interested in cybersecurity.

“It was extremely exciting to come in first during the pre-competition,” Ghazi-Tehrani said. “This part had no time limit, so our team was able to fully utilize their skillsets.”

Although the team did not place in regular competition, Hundall and Ghazi-Tehrani were proud of their team’s achievements in their first competition. The team overcame many challenges throughout the competition, all of which they conquered.

“As a new team, we do have a strong willingness to learn, improve and adapt,” Ghazi-Tehrani said. “For example, we had not been expecting a ‘physical security’ challenge, but one of our students rose to the task and was able to lock pick more locks than the teams which had expected it.”

In the future, the team hopes to compete in more competitions and improve in all aspects of the competition. The team also hopes to host their own cyber “capture the flag” competition at UA, aimed at local high school students. This would allow the team to design their own competition and see the behind-the-scenes of making capture the flag competitions.

“That’s what’s so exciting about being the new kids on the block.” Ghazi-Tehrani said. “The only way to go is up.”