MITT students excel at national cyber security contest

Originally posted: May 25, 2021

In what has become a springtime tradition, students from MITT’s Network and Systems Administrator and Cyber Defense and Cloud Administration programs recently did battle with rivals from post-secondary institutions across North America at the Canadian Cyber Defence Challenge (CCDC). It’s the fourth time MITT has entered teams in the event, which debuted in 2011, and two of our teams this year landed top-10 finishes.
 
Congratulations to the Shield for placing second both in the post-secondary division and overall standings and to La Colmena, for placing ninth.
 
This year marked the first time in the CCDC’s nine-year history that medals were awarded to top-three finishers, meaning The Shield members—Sik Mo Wong, Luis Santiago Trestini Bruestlen, Kurtis Yakimoski—took home some sweet silver hardware.
 
Returning after hiatus in 2020 due to COVID-19, the Challenge pits teams of students against one another in a series of competitions related to cyber security. What began as a Manitoba-only school competition has expanded to include teams from Ontario, British Columbia, even New York. Overall, 33 teams participated in the three-day event.
 
MITT’s teams were assembled by Gursharn Wander, Instructor in the Network and Systems Administrator/Cyber Defense and Cloud Administration programs. Wander ensured that each team was balanced and had a fair shot at excelling in the competition.
 
The ability for the teams to come together and gel so quickly cannot be understated. Those students who accepted the challenge, as Wander explains, did so without having the relationships that come with being in classes together. “In person, you know someone who is working with you from September until May, and then you say, ‘Yes, I want to be on this team,’” he says. “This year, virtually, was different.”
As a preparation exercise the teams worked on a couple trial projects. Starting from scratch building a small business, the teams had to build out their plan to offer services to clients, create a remote network, and establish a redundancy plan and other facets.
 
Wander says the teams really drew on their in-class learning—both in prep and in the competition—which he feels contributed to their competitive advantage.
 
“The skills they’ve gained in this program for the last six, seven months also played a factor in them doing well,” he says.
 
Once the competition started, it was a up to the teams to get rolling-but it was by no means a simple path to walk through. Students were challenged across the various stages of the CCDC, including in an exciting virtual game of Capture the Flag.
 
“[It was] so interesting, said Man Chun Lam who, along with Benjamin Ochagabia and Drew Wallace formed La Colmena. “I haven't participated in this kind of competition in the past.”
 
Poring over materials wasn’t easy, but it made the reward of finding clues that much more celebratory. “The most enjoyable part was when we found the clue about the flag so it gave us an idea of what kind of flag we are looking for,” says Ochagabia. “When we submitted the flag code then the enjoyment began and all of us shouted for joy.”
 
Where this year’s teams particularly excelled were in areas that aren’t easily teachable, something Wander says will help students as they enter the workforce. “The IT industry really appreciates the soft skill side,” Wander says. “They say, ‘yeah, we can train a person in technical aspects, but we can’t train in soft skills – communication, detailed technical writing.”
 
Wander projects that both The Shield and La Colmena will return for 2022’s competition, as well as two additional teams coming from MITT. As part of their second year in the CCDC, this year’s teams will also mentor the new squads—buoyed no doubt by the confidence they gained this year.
 
“These students had the courage to take on the challenge,” says Wander. “They’ve really outsmarted a lot of students who were prepared.”
 
Already, advice is coming in from this year’s competitors. “Don't spent too much time on a task,” says Sik Mo Wong from The Shield. “If you don't have any clues, pass it and look for other clues instead. And make good use of the suggested resources listed in the document.”
 
Watch a recap of this year’s competition as well as the announcement of the winners below:
 
 

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