Tech Students Finish Top-Three in Global Cybersecurity Competition

Cybersecurity Team members, from left, are Kaitlyn Carroll, Jesse Holland, Austin Brown, Jacob Sweeten, Austin Tice and Coach Travis Lee. Not pictured is team member John Housley.

A team of Tennessee Tech University students took top three at a recent global cybersecurity competition. 

The cybersecurity team took third out of 16 college hacking teams from around the world at the Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition took place at the Rochester Institute of Technology. At the annual event, now in its seventh year, students showcase their technical and professional skills and gain experience in the practice of identifying security vulnerabilities. 

“Honestly, it is hard to describe, but I was ecstatic,” team member Austin Tice said about finding out Tech won third place. 

To make the competition tougher the Tech team had to participate remotely. Due to weather concerns and the recent COVID variant, the team members had to participate in different locations through Zoom, which made working as a team tough. 

Kaitlyn Carroll is a cybersecurity graduate student and captain of the Tech team. She attributes the team’s success to the members’ strong technical training, but also to how professional everyone was during the competition. The team won the professionalism award.

“During the competition, you get to interact with these fictional CEOs and higher-ups in the company, the chief security officers, and it really does feel like you’re doing this job and not competing in something. In fact, when you’re competing, you can’t even refer to it as a competition,” Carroll said. “They don’t like to call it a competition, they like to call it a learning experience.”

The Tech team included Carroll, Austin Brown, Tice, Jesse Holland, Jacob Sweeten and John Housley. Five members of the six-member team are CyberCorps scholarship for service students, a program funded by the National Science Foundation. A team from Tech has not attended the finals since 2018.  

“During the competition, we didn’t know what they were going to throw at us, so half the time we spent researching, Googling trying to figure out, ‘Hey what can I do to this?’ It was a really good insight to what that kind of job looks like, doing penetration service assessments,” Holland said. 

During the three-day immersive competition, each team was tasked with identifying weaknesses in a simulated corporate environment without impacting the operations of business activities. Each year the competition focuses on a different business sector. This year they focused on industrial food manufacturing and retail sector. For the challenge, the students had to break into networks of Le Bonbon Croissant, a fake global bakery and confectionery that operates its own retail stores, with realistic websites, social media accounts and staged character interactions. Students investigated web and software weaknesses, including finding vulnerabilities.

“There is no secret sauce to getting good at cybersecurity, it’s just doing stuff and learning how to do cybersecurity. If you want to be good at hacking, it means maybe knowing how to defend things too, so you attack something,” Brown said. “At the end of the day it’s simply just doing stuff, and by stuff, I mean cybersecurity things.”

First place went to Cal Poly Pomona, with second place going to Stanford University.

To learn more about cybersecurity at Tennessee Tech University visit CEROC’s website at  

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