As ransomware attacks continue to plague local government entities — Bexar County Appraisal District was the latest victim — hackers’ methods and organizations have become more sophisticated. At least one hacker group identified by the FBI appears to have an HR department, performance reviews and an “employee of the month.”
Professionals simulated these complex, highly targeted attacks this week at a student competition in San Antonio, sponsored by Raytheon Technologies as a way to train and recruit the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.
The finals of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, held at the Hyatt Regency Hill County Resort and Spa from Thursday to Saturday, saw 10 teams from 10 schools across the country play defense against coordinated cyberattacks. More than 150 other teams had already been eliminated before this week.
The competition is the largest of its kind in the country, organizers said.
Students on the teams played the roles of cybersecurity professionals protecting a business under active attack from intruders. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, real cybersecurity professionals acted the part of the hackers, seeking to disrupt and shut down system after system: emails, cloud-based servers, internal data and even the help desk. Points were awarded to teams who repelled the attacks and restored their systems as quickly as possible.
Inside the University of Texas at Austin’s team room, sophomore Rishabh Ahlawat worked furiously to configure a firewall that would protect the Longhorns’ cloud servers and even alert them to new intruders.
The teams’ computers sprawled across the desks showed blue screens and massive walls of coding text.
“It’s stressful, but it’s a fun kind of stressful,” Ahlawat said. The team lost points every minute a product server remained down. His lunch sat untouched in its paper bag.
Ahlawat said when he first came to college, he didn’t envision a future in cybersecurity. But…