Monday, June 18, 2012

Mt. SAC Cyber Team Earns National Title

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The team (from left to right): Lam Cun, Yinfeng Cai, Philip Weniger, Jimmy Tu, Ray Wu, Chris Nila, Brian Baligad, Professor Jim Gau, Robert Murray.
Mt. San Antonio College has long been noted for its success in sports.  For instance, the campus’ football and soccer teams both have received national titles in recent years.
And now another of the community college’s teams is hoisting a national championship trophy.  Mt. SAC’s cyber team on Sunday defeated DePaul University in the National Cyber League Championship match up held in Orlando, Fla. The championship was the culmination of the inaugural National Cyber League season in which around 30 teams from across the country competed for a chance at the title.
By the end of an eight-hour battle that had both eight-member teams playing offense and defense, the second-ranked Mt. SAC had beaten the school at the top.
“DePaul was ranked No. 1 and Mt. SAC was No. 2, so it was nice that the No. 1 team faced off against the No. 2 team,” said Chris Nila, team captain.
The cyber security competition involved the two teams trying to capture each other’s flags and ward off attacks.  Both were tasked with trying to break into the other team’s system to steal fake social security numbers set up for the competition, call signs, and license plate numbers.  Mt. SAC captured 16 of DePaul’s 25.  DePaul was not able to grab any of Mt. SAC’s. 
In previous competitions, the teams had played defense, but the championship called for them to play offense as well, Nila said.
Team member Philip Weniger competed for the first time in the championship and said the trip the day before had him wired.
“I was nervous on the flight there,” he said.  “I don’t think I ever slept really well.  I was still trying to go over everything.”
Nila said the team was thrown a bit after arriving to find out that organizers had made some last minute rule changes.  That forced the team to alter its strategy but the squad stayed calm and focused. 
Brian Baligad said that the team developed a secret strategy that helped them secure the win.
“We basically did it the right way,” he said.  “Other teams will figure it out and it will be common knowledge, but for now, we keep it tight.”
Last year, Mt. SAC received a $3 million four-year grant to establish and operate a CyberWatch West center from 2011 through 2015.  The regional center, one of four in the country, will support CyberWatch West programs, including dealing with the shortage of workers in the network security field.  Besides Mt. SAC, the CyberWatch West consortium includes Cal Poly, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Cal State San Bernardino, and Whatcom Community College in Washington.
The National Cyber League grew out of these centers, said Jaishri Mehta, CyberWatch West’s director. 
Both the Committee on National Security Systems and the National Security Agency have certified Mt. SAC’s Computer Information Systems curriculum, citing that the college’s program meets national standards for information systems security professionals.  Mt. SAC is the first community college in the state and is among only a few two-year schools in the West to receive national certification.
“We beat DePaul, which is a private school,” Mehta said.  “It proves the kind of robust program we have here at Mt. SAC.  Being a champion is very good, but the students’ skill sets is what gets them to that level.”
Jim Gau, Mt. SAC computer information systems professor and “proud” advisor to the team, agreed that what the students learn in the classroom gives them the foundation they need to perform well during the competitions. They take what they do in class to a whole other level in competition, he said.
“It prepares you as a nice cook.  You learn how to put the ingredients together to make a nice dish,” he said.  “This competition makes them like ‘Iron Chef.’”

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