CWU News

CWU student computer hackers to display skills at national cybersecurity competition

CWU Cyber Security and Ethical Hacking Club logoStudents at CWU are becoming accomplished computer hackers. And in this case, it’s a good thing.


In fact, on Saturday, November 16, six students from the university’s student-run Cyber Security and Ethical Hacking Club will represent CWU at the United States Department of Energy’s (DOE) CyberForce Competition at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland.


“The competition is a great way for students to learn more about critical infrastructure security and the importance of protecting areas that are becoming more of a threat to our national security,” said Deborah Wells, CWU Information Technology and Administrative Management (ITAM) lecturer.


The CWU students will compete against peers from 17 colleges and universities in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah.


Connor Hilburn, president of the Cyber Security and Ethical Hacking Club, explained that in the upcoming competition, “we are acting as a ‘blue team,’ which indicates you are on the defensive. We’re put up against industry professionals that act as the attackers, or the ‘red team.’”


Through a realistic scenario, the contest encourages “out-of-the-box” teamwork to develop innovative defense strategies and techniques to safeguard certain cyber assets. This year’s competition will involve the teams defending an industrial control production process system.  


“Specifically, we’ll be protecting a data center and keeping it up and running,” added Hilburn, a 2016 graduate of Kittitas High School.


Wells will also participate in a different aspect of the competition, serving on the “green” team, which is considered to be the ‘users’ of the network that the blue team is trying to protect.


“I will also have the opportunity to be on the coaches’ blue team for part of the day, so I’ll get to see what the students are working with,” Wells said. “I’m excited about this opportunity since I’ll be able to bring back some of what I learn from the overall training and incorporate it into our ITAM courses.” 


The teams will be scored on the ideas the craft and defenses they develop against what could be sporadic or constant attacks during the eight-hour contest period. They are also judged on their usability.


“You get points on who has their services up the longest and how many services are running at a time,” Hilburn continued. “If you have five or six services up and running you gain more and more points by the minute. But we’ll be dealing with dozens of services.”


Those services range from such things as application programming interfaces (APIs), business transaction processing, e-mail, mobile applications, and web sites.


“We will delegate team members based on who has the most experience in certain areas,” Hilburn explained. “We’re very excited. We think it’s going to be fun, and allow us to learn and gain some new skills that can help with our job searches or in interviews.”


Wells added, “The competition is a talent scouting event for the DOE and other sponsors of the competition. It’s not unheard of for a student from a competition such as this one to have a job offer waiting once they graduate.”


The Cyber Security and Ethical Hacking Club, which has about two-dozen members, offers students a chance to hone their technical skills in cybersecurity, computer-network penetration testing, and other information technology skills beyond what they learn in the classroom.


This is the first time the club, which was founded in 2014, will participate in the CyberForce Competition. This is the fifth such event since 2016. Companion competitions are being held at nine other national laboratories across the nation. The PNNL event is the country’s second largest.


“I am very proud of our team which consists of members of both ITAM and computer science this year,” Wells said. “Since this is the first year CWU is competing in CyberForce, the team is a bit nervous, but I know they will shine.”


Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487,


Editor’s note: Additional information about the nationwide competition, and a listing of all the colleges and universities involved, is available at Cyberforce competition, participating teams.