The TAMU Cybersecurity Competitive Team has been representing Texas A&M in cybersecurity competitions against other universities and teams, both in the United States and across the world.
The team started unofficially a few years ago, as part of the TAMU Cybersecurity Club with a couple of interested students. The students would typically get together on a couple of weekends a year and play Capture the Flag (CTF) as explained by computer engineering graduate Andrew Meserole.
“The cybersecurity field has competitions called CTFs,” Meserole said. “These competitions come in two forms. The most popular is where competitors are given a set of challenges and tasked with solving them for points. The second type is attack-defence where teams are tasked with defending a set of services while attempting to hack into the other teams' services.”
An example jeopardy-style challenge is when someone is given a vulnerable website and tasked with hacking into it. For the attack-defense CTF, for instance, one would need to prove they hacked the site, which results in a token being given upon their success, which can be turned in for points.
In the fall of 2017, the Cybersecurity Club decided to sponsor a competitive team officially and set aside weekly meetings for competition and practice. The current Cybersecurity Competitive Team includes Ivan Sauerzopf, Andrew Meserole, Nicholas March and Erin Kuffel, who also serves as TAMU Cybersecurity Club president.
According to the TAMU Cybersecurity Club, there is currently no skill requirement for attending the competitive meetings. Most competitions they compete in do not limit the size of the teams. However, there are a few onsite CTFs which restrict the size of the groups. For those events, a mix of skill and experience is usually used to select students.
The Cybersecurity Competitive Team is also an initiative in partnership with Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center. The team advisors from the center are director Daniel “Rags” Ragsdale and assistant director Robert “Trez” Jones.
“I have worked with students as the founder and continue to serve in an administrative role,” Jones said. “Cybersecurity [at] TAMU is an exciting place with 4.7 [million] dollars in federal scholarship grants being awarded in this past year.”
On the other side, the relatively young age of the competitive team has not been without its challenges, according to Meserole.
“Some of the challenges that we have faced as a club team include how to mix training and practice so that it is approachable to the students who are new to the cybersecurity world in general and to those who have been around for a couple of years and would like to practice on harder challenges,” Meserole said. “Another challenge is not asking for too much time out of a students day. To do well competitively involves spending a lot of time learning and practising on your own outside of the club meetings as well as spending weekends competing.”
Last semester, the Cybersecurity Competitive Team officially competed in several competitions. Some of the significant examples include getting fifth place overall in an onsite match following which they were flown out to Raymond James, an American diversified holding company, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Florida.
They also attained 10th place out of 174 university teams in the National Cyber League competition— a first-of-its-kind ongoing educational experiment in learning and gaming in cybersecurity— and finally winning first place while competing with local universities, at the Deloitte ACE Competition held onsite at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) conference in San Antonio.
“So far this semester we just finished up TAMUctf where over hundred TAMU students and twelve hundred teams worldwide competed in a CTF competition built and run by TAMU students,” Meserole said. “Several of our team members took the top spots for students in the competition and ranked very well among the public teams who usually have a large number of professionals playing together. We also competed in the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.”
The team has several competitions that they plan on competing in later this spring and have high hopes for their performance.