CSM Newsroom

Cybersecurity Students Put Skills to the Test at Various Competitions Throughout the Year

June 25, 2024


CSM Cybersecurity Club students from left include Phuong Nguyen, John Castello, Club Sponsor and Professor Pamela Mitchell, Imani Carroll, front James Zito and Oluwatomisin Aina on the Zoom screen.

College of Southern Maryland (CSM) students routinely put their cybersecurity skills to the test, competing in contests that pit them against other teams to solve puzzles using their hacking and teamwork skills.

The Cybersecurity Club capped off their 2023-2024 season at a Capture the Flag tournament hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC), Inc. and out of 35 teams that competed in the spring’s tournament, CSM’s two teams, the Vhawks and the Velocity Hawks, placed 15th and 22nd, respectively.

“The MAGIC competition is a fun way to practice the skills students are learning in the classroom in a collaborative way,” said club sponsor and Cybersecurity Professor Pamela Mitchell.

In these competitions, teams are given a piece of software, a web application, a virtual machine or a virtualized network as a source. Their goal is to find all the hidden flags before the opposing teams. The flags can take many different forms, but the most typical is a question that force students to use critical thinking, to find string of code hidden in a document or a phrase that is revealed through an application file.    

“We teach them tools that they need to use, and they do the rest,” Mitchell added. “We want them to show that they know how to work the tools so that they can answer the questions that the challenge is asking. They’re practicing a lot of things they learn in the classroom, from researching to dissecting hard drives.”

The club typically participates in several competitions each year, and this year their schedule also included two National Cyber League competitions, the Cyber Maryland Challenge, and the MidAtlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (MCCDC). Each event has its own structure and helps students to hone different skills. For example, the MCCDC is a hackathon-style event in which teams develop a solution to a real-world problem and create presentations to share their process with judges.

“We get better every year,” said Mitchell.

“We learned a lesson about the importance of communication,” agreed Cybersecurity Club president Oluwatomisin “Tomi” Aina. “We revisit it, find out lessons, and talk about what we can do better.”

In addition to Aina, the club includes students Imani Carroll, Kaleb Bennett, Daniel Hunt, Phuong Nguyen and James Zito, and alumni John Castello, Jahiem Fyffe, and Jime Marquez. Thanks to sponsorships from the professional organization Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association International (AFCEA), alumni can remain on the team after graduation. Mitchell said that this is a valuable chance for students to continue learning and networking even after graduation and over the summer.

“When students leave, they still need to continue to work on their skills and keep up the relationships they have established with their classmates,” she said.

The team meets each Friday on Zoom and at the La Plata campus. For more information about becoming part of the club, contact Pamela Mitchell at pamitchell1@csmd.edu. For more information about cybersecurity at CSM, visit https://www.csmd.edu/programs-courses/credit/school-of-professional-technical-studies/cybersecurity.html

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