By Tyrone Burke

To stop a hacker, you need to think like one. And the CyberSCI Cyber Security Challenge asks competitors to put themselves in a hacking state of mind.

The annual competition presents participants with a series of puzzles and tasks, and challenges students to work as a team to solve them. For the past nine years, CyberSCI has been pitting teams of undergraduate computer science students against each other in a multi-round competition.

In January 2021, Carleton swept the podium in the regional competition before the winning team, Team Rocket, went on to place second in the online national competition in July 2021. It was the first time that any of Ottawa’s post-secondary institutions had achieved the feat during the regional competition.

The team competing in the national competition was made up of Carleton School of Computer Science students Emma Sewell, Trent Holmes, John Forsythe and Michael Shlega, dubbed Team Rocket.

Prof. Sonia Chiasson

Prof. Sonia Chiasson

“The exact challenges in CyberSCI change from year to year, so students never know exactly what they will need to do,” says Sonia Chiasson, an associate professor in Carleton’s School of Computer Science and Canada Research Chair in User Centric Cybersecurity.

“They might be asked to break into an admin account so they can get access to a console, and then perform a task. They are trying to hack into the system in some way, and after they do, we have conversations about how this type of attack could be handled by a security professional. Even though students pretend to be attackers during the challenge, we always come back to what could be done to protect against this type of attack in the real world, once they are security professionals.”

The competition emulates real-world scenarios, and because of that, cyber security companies typically attend CyberSCI—and use it as a recruiting event where they can meet potential interns.

“We set out to be as realistic as possible, and work on a network that looks like a real company,” says Tom Levasseur, a cyber security analyst at the Bank of Canada who launched CyberSCI in 2011 after participating in the HackFest Cyber event in Quebec City.

“This year we had to do it online and used Discord. So, it was a little unlike a regular hacker competition, where competitors get to interact directly with mentors who can explain exactly what’s going on. And mentors get to see students in scenarios that are a lot like what they will be doing at work. It’s a format that really works well for everybody.”


Cyber Security Professionals Are in High Demand

CyberSCI was founded in Ottawa, but has grown into a Canada-wide event. Each year, there are similar regional competitions held in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver. Winners move on to a national competition held in the summer, and this year, the top two teams from the Canadian competition have been invited to participate in the European Cyber Security Challenge in Prague— public health guidelines permitting. The champion is also invited to participate in the International Cyber Security Challenge in Athens.

“In the beginning, we were doing really well, but we kind of hit a wall, and got stuck for two hours on this one task,” says three-time CyberSCI participant and fourth-year computer science student Emma Sewell of the regional competition.

“But we went over challenges, and the parts we had missed, so we could revisit what we got wrong.”

Cyber security professionals are in high demand, and Chiasson has seen an uptick in interest in recent years.

“It is increasing in popularity. More and more students are realizing it is an exciting career path,” she says.

“People are also recognizing that they have a lot of opportunity to guide their own career in this field. There are a ton of jobs, and we regularly get emails from businesses asking if we have any students graduating soon because they have openings. There are a lot of opportunities for students who build this kind of experience.”

CyberSci 2021 Canadian National Championships Standings

CyberSci 2021 Canadian National Championships Standings (Photo: CyberSci)

Team Rocket’s Trent Holmes is among the students who ecently developed an interest in the field.

“When I went into computer science, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but cyber security was most interesting to me,” he says.

“A little over a year ago, I did a ‘capture the flag’ computer security competition, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been looking for more ever since.”

Second place in the regional competition was claimed by Team Solar Winds,  comprised of students from the Bachelor of Information Technology program, a degree jointly offered by Carleton and Algonquin College. Completing the sweep was another School of Computer Science team. Called Ctrl-Alt-Elite, they earned the unofficial prize for best team name.

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Thursday, August 19, 2021 in ,
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