Penn College students win ‘Hacker’ event at security conference

April 29, 2013

In a field that included industry professionals, 10 students in Pennsylvania College of Technology’s School of Business and Computer Technologies won the Hacker Battleship competition during a recent network security conference in Rochester, N.Y.

The students and three faculty members attended the Security B-Sides Rochester conference, held April 6 at Cathedral Hall in the Rochester Auditorium Center. The event’s mission is to raise community awareness about security-related topics and includes an ethical “hacking” component to expose and exploit weaknesses for the ultimate improvement of network safety.

Modeled after the popular game of Battleship, the competition involved 49 hacking-related challenges arranged in a seven-by-seven grid. Five points were awarded for solving a challenge, 10 for hitting a ship and 20 for sinking a ship. Once a challenge was solved, that square was revealed as either a “hit” or a “miss” and the problem no longer available for others to solve.

“Within 25 minutes, we took a lead of 66 points with only one other team scoring points,” said Joseph W. Bourgart, of Warrington, among the Penn College student competitors. “I was very impressed with how well our team performed in the competition.”

Bourgart and four other Penn College participants – Taylor R. Lapointe, of Pelham, N.H.; David M. Mossop, of Newark, Del.; Dylan M. Thomas, of Mount Joy; and Dionisios D. Tomboris, of Dover – are enrolled in the information technology: information assurance and security concentration major.

Three others – Donald E. McCoy, of Watsontown; Brandon D. Simon, of Hallstead; and Coty C. Williams, of Snow Shoe – are majoring in information technology: network specialist concentration.

Rounding out the team were Joel Teay, a software development and information management major from Whitehall, and Nevan F. Elder, of Williamsport, an information technology: Web and applications development concentration student.

“Challenges included things like hacking a password to open a protected file, successfully ‘picking a lock’ to gain access to a secret and determining a location on a map based on a collection of pictures,” said Sandra Gorka, an associate professor of computer science at the college. “Students were required to understand concepts in ethical hacking, penetration testing, cryptography and file headers, and other knowledge related to IT and information assurance.”

Accompanying the students and Gorka were Jacob R. Miller, associate professor of computer science, and Daniel W. Yoas, associate professor of computer information technology; the three faculty members provided guidance and suggestions while students were competing.

“Representatives from several security-related companies were keeping track of the Hacker Battleship competition,” Gorka said. “Once they realized that Penn College took an early lead, they found where we were located and came to speak with the students. Several students left with business cards and possible contacts for jobs when they graduate. It was an excellent networking opportunity for the students.”

Lapointe, Tomboris and Miller also participated in a Crypto Challenge designed by Darth Null, who has created similar puzzlers for the DEFCON and Shmoocon security events. They didn’t win, Bourgart and Gorka said, but devoted hours of work to determining parts of the solution well before they were provided as hints via Twitter.

The students – members of the Elite Security Alliance, a campus organization in the process of changing its name to the Information Systems Security Association – also attended talks on a variety of information-security topics, including mobile-phone hacking.

“The conference was a great experience,” said Bourgart, club president and organizer of the Rochester trip. “This is the first ‘Capture the Flag’ event that all of us participated in. We plan on competing in others next year and hopefully will win again.”

For more about the School of Business and Computer Technologies, visit or call 570-327-4517.

For more about Penn College, visit, email or call 800-367-9222.

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Last Updated April 29, 2013