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Baskin Engineering student team places second at National Cybersecurity Competition

A team of UC Santa Cruz computer science and engineering students placed second in this year’s U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) CyberForce Competition. This was the first time UC Santa Cruz participated in the competition. 

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) CyberForce Competition banner

The CyberForce Competition began in 2016 and is part of the DOE’s CyberForce Program, which “helps develop the next generation of cybersecurity professionals to defend and protect our nation’s critical energy systems from cyber threats and attacks.”

At each year’s competition, student teams are given a scenario that involves securing a cyber-physical infrastructure against a malicious cyberattack. They are scored on innovation, effectiveness, and usability of the system. This year, 120 teams from 105 universities across the country were tasked with securing a hydropower company’s cybersecurity systems against a simulated attack. 

Mentored by Alvaro Cardenas, associate professor of computer science and engineering, team UCSC included students from Cardenas’s Cy-Phy Security Lab with extensive cybersecurity experience, along with others who had no prior cybersecurity or cyber physical systems research experience, but who were interested in being challenged and learning fast to help their team reach the top of the leaderboard. The team members were: computer science and engineering (CSE) Ph.D. students Sebastián Castro, Luis Salazar, Juan Lozano, Eya Badal Abdisho; and CSE undergraduate students Waylon Peng and Ryan Leung.

“The best part of advising the team was to see how self-motivated the students were. My students spent several hours in the two weeks before the event finding and fixing vulnerabilities, documenting their strategy, and making videos. I was happy to see the team working hard in the middle of midterms to complete these tasks,” said Cardenas. 

CyberForce provides college students the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities that simulate real-world threats, allowing students to gain knowledge of cybersecurity methodologies in preparation for careers in the cybersecurity industry. For more information about the DOE CyberForce Program, visit cyberforcecompetition.com.

Students at UC Santa Cruz are also competing in the National Security Administration (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge, a competition where individuals complete a series of reverse engineering, cybersecurity-related tasks to earn points. UC Santa Cruz is currently ranked eighth out of over 200 universities participating. The competition runs through January 4, 2022, and students with an interest in cybersecurity are encouraged to contribute to UCSC’s standings. Contact Professor Cardenas at alacarde@ucsc.edu for more information.

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