The COVID-19 pandemic undeniably changed the spring semester, but TU’s collegiate cyber students and faculty continue to actively and creatively look for ways to make the best of the situation. Many of the spring events and competitions continued as planned, just in a new, digital-only format.
TU to compete at NCCDC after winning SWCCDC regional
The Southwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (SWCCDC) at TU, was originally scheduled for March and temporarily postponed due to COVID-19. But after a few adjustments, faculty and students rallied to attend the event in a virtual realm; university-level students competed Saturday, April 11. The TU team won first place and will compete in the National CCDC virtual event May 22-23.
CCDC teams exercise both technical and business skills while focusing on the operational aspects of managing and protecting an existing simulated corporate network infrastructure. A traditional CCDC regional and national competition is an intense in-person team experience. The team works hard on coordinating activities and communication in a fast-paced environment of relentless network-based attacks while responding to continual business tasks. TU’s team is led by faculty adviser Sal Aurigemma, Edward E. and Helen T. Bartlett Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems.
“Moving the competition completely online keeps the same demanding expectations while removing the ability to share vital non-verbal communication cues that all great teams build by working together over time,” Aurigemma explained. “Communicating will be more difficult, and more important than ever. Team captain Hannah Robbins has done a truly phenomenal job leading the team through all the required technical training throughout the year. The dedication, flexibility, and professionalism of TU’s CCDC team is something I am truly proud to be a part of.”
Robbins worked with the team to test multiple collaboration platforms, adjusting and fine-tuning the communication protocols that the team relies on to function.
“Not being face to face in the same room competing is a new experience for us this year, but the changes the competition has made to adapt to the circumstances have kept the difficulty consistent,” Robbins said.
The group reviewed its past performances at competitions and other virtual events to determine what worked and what didn’t. “The pandemic has given us a chance to step back and really examine our strategies, and we’ve made some changes that will give us a new perspective on our plan of attack from the start of the competition.”
Capture the Flag for TPS
In other cyber competitions, computer science student Tabor Kvasnicka is a perfect example of how innovative ideas can help move a plan forward. TU hosts an online Capture the Flag event every November and in the middle of COVID-19 social distancing measures, Kvasnicka decided to offer that same opportunity to students in the Tulsa Public School system.
Kvasnicka describes the event as a “Jeopardy!-style version of Capture the Flag, where teams solve cybersecurity challenges to reach a string of text called a ‘flag,’ which awards them points.”
But capturing these cyber flags is not easy, and the teams must be well-versed in a variety of topics such as PWN, reverse engineering, cryptography, web and other emerging areas of computer science. The event is tentatively scheduled to start on April 13, and the end date is yet to be determined.
Another great way the TU community is demonstrating its resilience to proceed with regularly scheduled events is the computer simulation and gaming program’s Computer Simulation and Gaming Conference (CSGC). Originally planned before the pandemic arrived for the weekend of April 17-18, CSGC was quickly transitioned to a virtual competition by Chapman Instructor in Computer Science Akram Taghavi-Burris and her students; all speakers presented online to a worldwide audience of all ages.
Shifting the delivery required a lot of flexibility, Taghavi-Burris said: “Our CSGC 2020 event volunteers, speakers, exhibitors and sponsors were quick to respond and encourage the move to a virtual event. While this is a new platform for CSGC, an online conference does have its advantages. We saw an increase of out-of-state attendees, and even those from other countries. Again, our student volunteers have been tremendous and even worked out what tools would be best to stream and keep in touch with our attendees. We’ve even set up a CSGC Discord server on their recommendation and it’s been a great way to communicate with everyone involved.”
While there’s no denying that the semester has been disrupted by COVID-19, the global health crisis has also illuminated the heart, drive, and passion of TU students and faculty. Their ability to revise plans and adapt to constant change ensures the show goes on.