UW-Eau Claire’s computer science team placed third in the annual CypherCon conference, a national cybersecurity competition held in Milwaukee.
“It was a big accomplishment for us,” Brenden Zember, a math and computer science student, said. “We were going up against big names and we were very competitive.”
The conference is held annually in the common area of The Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. This year’s event, CypherCon 4.0, took place on April 11.
Zember said CypherCon is one of the largest cybersecurity conferences in the midwest. Within the conference is a hacking competition that almost 100 teams participate in.
There are many different vendors and organizations that congregate in the Wisconsin Center for this event. Each vendor has their own cybersecurity and hacking challenges.
To accumulate points in the competition, participants must complete these challenges in a given time frame. At the end of the two-day conference, whichever team has the most points from these challenges wins.
“They have this conference so that employers and professors can bring their students to an area where they can mess around and compete and win some points in a safe hacking area,” Hannah Borreson, a third-year computer science student, said. “It’s way more of a inclusive environment than a cut throat competition.”
Most of the attendees at CypherCon are experienced professionals in the hacking or computer science industry, making the event extremely competitive, Bradley Konsela, a third-year student, said.
“There’s actually very few college students there,” Konsela said. “It’s mostly professionals in the computer science field.”
The conference even saw large companies such as Northwestern Mutual and government agencies such as the U.S Army and the National Guard in attendance, Zember said.
“It’s tough because there’s people there that have been doing this for twenty, thirty years,” Zember said. “And then there’s us, where this is all so new.”
Despite the tough competition, the UW-Eau Claire team’s youth and determination gave them a competitive edge, Borreson said.
“Being younger can help in the social aspect,” Borreson said. “Most people didn’t expect us to be that competitive so they were more willing to help us out.”
Besides practical challenges such as password cracking and programming, some vendors had challenges geared strictly towards entertainment.
“They have what you would call ‘playground tables,’” Borreson said. “Lock-picking, safe-cracking, getting out of handcuffs, stuff that you wouldn’t practically need.”
Despite CypherCons competitive and stressful environment, the event is something that the UW-Eau Claire students enjoy and look forward to, Borreson said.
“These people will go to work, do their job but not actually enjoy it,” Borreson said. “Conferences like these give us the ability to learn even more and build our skills and it gives us motivation to get back to our jobs.”
CypherCon draws in computer science business and tech companies from around the midwest, making it a great networking event for the UW-Eau Claire computer science team, Zember said.
“Right after the conference the head of the Army group and a couple other companies basically told us that they would hire us right now if we wanted a job,” Konsela said.
Hacking and computer science are fields that the UW-Eau Claire group is extremely passionate about, not because they want to break into systems, but rather because they hope to protect people from hackers, Zember said.
“Our whole purpose with hacking is building a system to be stronger so people with bad intentions don’t try (to) break in,” Zember said. “there’s a good and bad side to all of this, our purpose is to make these systems more secure.”
Alex can be reached at [email protected]