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Safeguarding network infrastructure against skilled hackers was among the tasks for University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa students in a national cybersecurity competition.

The challenge was designed to test the competitors with real world scenarios. The UH Mānoa team consisting of eight undergraduate and graduate information and computer science students finished fifth in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Regional Competition (CCDC) in late February.

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Wilson Tran, one of the team leads, is a senior computer science student. He is also a data manager for Ai.Fish, a company conducting artificial intelligence research to solve problems in marine sustainability and conservation, as well as a research intern with Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific.

“For cybersecurity in particular, I feel this competition is invaluable,” Tran said. “To succeed, it requires a foundational understanding of how to secure computers in a network and the technical expertise to work on a variety of operating systems, virtualization technologies, etc. Putting in the effort to learn everything you can to prepare for this competition is easily one of the most effective ways to gain the skills needed for cybersecurity outside of real work experience.”

The team competed remotely from UH Mānoa, and students needed to score as many points as possible by completing time-limited business tasks. Some tasks included remotely setting up a printer, managing a network service, setting up secure login procedures for a new employee as part of an onboarding process and more. The team said one of the most difficult parts of the competition—and the thing that made it extremely practical—was trying to navigate the hackers, whose goal was to break into these networks and prevent service operations for as long as they could.

“The skills learned preparing and participating for CCDC are extremely relevant to real cybersecurity jobs,” Jake Imanaka, a team lead and a computer science master’s student at UH Mānoa. “This not only teaches students the technical skills of defending and managing a network, but also how to work as a team under extreme time crunches and pressure. Doing well in the competition can also result in networking and direct job opportunities as this is a very well-known competition.”

Although the team didn’t qualify for the national competition, Tran and Imanaka said the team will soon start preparations for next year. Announcements and other information can be found on the team’s Discord page.

The Information and Computer Sciences Department is housed in UH Mānoa’s College of Natural Sciences.

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