On April 22, the members of the University of Tulsa’s Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) team will be in San Antonio, Texas, for the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
CCDC is a competition designed to test student’s ability to protect a network from attackers. The networks that the students are asked to defend imitate commercial networks, and provide various services, such as e-mail and e-commerce sites. The teams of up to eight students attempt to both protect their servers and keep their network’s services running, while the “Red Team,” composed of professional penetration testers, attempts to shut down the student’s network. At each competition, every team is given an identical hardware and software setup at the start, and scored based on how well they protected their network.
Teams are in charge of a different network at each competition. “The first time, [the network we were given was] just a small business kind of thing, and then at regionals it was just a medical insurance company,” said Michael Frohlich, a member of the CCDC team. The teams only learn what kind of network they’ll be in charge of running once they walk into the competition room. “Last time [at nationals] it was a SCADA network, so like wind farm networks, things that manage infrastructure. Before that, it was domain hosts, so very complicated systems that you have to know what you’re doing.”
Competitors in CCDC also work at some disadvantages, compared to real IT personnel. “This time we have limited internet connectivity, so we only get [to access] ten websites of our choice,” said Frohlich. “It’s to prevent people from trying to smuggle in extra utilities.”
They also can’t bring in software that they’ve previously written. “You’re not allowed to bring in any external USB drives,” Frohlich said. “Any code is printed on a piece of paper. You essentially just have a manual that your team creates, and that’s it. It’s to constrain you from having a bunch of tools set up, ready to go.”
This year, TU’s team first had to compete in a regional qualifying round, held remotely. After winning that round, they advanced to the regional finals, which were held at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. In less than two weeks, they’ll be back in San Antonio, but the finals will be held in a convention center downtown.
TU has participated every year since the competition began, and this is the first time they’ve made it to Nationals. “This is a big deal for everyone presently, and everyone in the past who participated, because we were always the underdogs to some of the larger schools in Texas,” said Frohlich. “This year we have a strong team.”