Cyber program highlighted at regional College Penetration Testing Competition

Jessica Hallman
October 23, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The College of Information Sciences and Technology hosted the eastern regional round of the College Penetration Testing Competition (CPTC), held Oct. 5-7 on the University Park campus.

Eleven teams comprised of 66 cybersecurity students from universities in the eastern third of the U.S., including Penn State, competed in the event to build and sharpen the skills necessary to discover, triage and mitigate critical security vulnerabilities.

According to Mike Hills, associate teaching professor of IST and co-coordinator of the eastern regional event, the competition focused on improving the security posture of a fictitious organization and reporting on its risks. This competition is unique, he said, in offering a simulated environment that mimics real-world networks.

“As one of several world-class cybersecurity competitions, CPTC is focused on the needs of the offensive security team,” Hills said. “Whether part of an in-house red team, a consulting firm providing penetration testing services, or an information security analyst, students participating in CPTC were able to hone the technical, communication and collaboration skills they will use not only in the classroom but in the real world.”

At the start of the competition, students were briefed on their assignment then assumed the role of a consultant team hired to identify weaknesses and vulnerabilities in a simulated corporate environment. Using their technical knowledge, participants sought out vulnerabilities in various systems and provided a comprehensive written report of their findings. All of the work was completed in a virtual environment.

“There are some things that you have to learn by actually doing it rather than just reading about it or attending lectures,” said Cole Daubenspeck, a second-year student studying cybersecurity analytics and operations and member of the Penn State team. “Cybersecurity is one of those things, because it relies on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This competition is very good for learning those skills in a real-world environment.”

While the Penn State team did not advance to the national competition following the highly competitive regionals, the University gained national recognition as a leader in cybersecurity training.

“One thing we seem to lose track of is just how fantastic our facilities are here at Penn State,” said Hills. “Competitors consistently remark on how they envy our infrastructure and learning spaces. This ability to showcase our campus and talk about our programs with students and advisers from other universities is a great opportunity. As one of the few institutions that has consistently been willing and able to take on hosting duty [for CPTC], it also paints us as leaders in the field of cybersecurity.”

“Highlighting our cybersecurity program can make more Penn State students interested in cybersecurity and also brings in students from around the region,” concluded Daubenspeck. “Building a network with other institutions can not only help strengthen Penn State’s program but increase students’ social network and future career opportunities.”

Last Updated October 25, 2018