Having spent nine hours typing on keyboards and then writing a report until 2 a.m., Cal Poly Pomona’s the Ethical Hacking Team earned its place at nationals and will fly to Rochester, New York in November to compete.
The team placed second to Stanford University at the 2018 Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition (CPTC).
Jordan Wheeler, who is the team’s project manager and an eighth-year CIS (computer information systems) student, said the competition allows the team to test the defense of a company’s security and look for any weaknesses.
“We emulate what the bad guys do against a company for their protection, rather than being malicious,” Wheeler said.
Fourth-year computer information systems student Jonathan Chua said companies hire individuals like them to assess the strength of security software and get advice on what can be done to increase it. Plus, he said the competitions are a good way to network and get their names out there.
Fourth-year CIS major and team captain Brandon Sakamoto said the demand for ethical hackers and cybersecurity specialists is high, but supply is low because schools don’t offer the curriculum necessary to be at the level they are.
Chua said the curriculum at CPP covers the very basic levels, but if someone wanted to become a professional, then that work would have to be done outside of class.
“Clubs are really important for learning this type of stuff,” Wheeler said.
Despite this, fourth-year computer science student and team technical analyst Eric Kannampuzha said CPP is one of three schools accredited by the National Security Agency (NSA) in cyber assurance.
“The curriculum does help [you] dip your toe in it, but the whole school does help provide the education needed,” Kannampuzha said.
Sakamoto said he came to this university not knowing about cybersecurity, but events like the Cyber Security Awareness Fair and clubs such as Students with an Interest in Future Technology (SWIFT) and Forensics and Security Technology (FAST) motivated him to pursue a career in the field.
“CPP gives us a safe space to practice these skills,” Sakamoto said.
In 2017, the team placed third at regionals but didn’t even place in 2016. Sakamoto credits this year’s success to having a diverse team of members, each with his or her own talent.
Kevin Ruiz, a fourth-year CIS student who sets up operations for the team, said he is excited for nationals but worried about the time change when the team goes to New York for the competition.
“We work without taking breaks, so the time change is definitely stressing me out,” Ruiz said.
Sakamoto said people interested in the field as a profession should join the team or similar clubs and reach out to the club’s faculty advisor, Ronald Pike, because the team is looking for new members, as most of the current ones are graduating.