FITSEC, Florida Tech’s competitive cybersecurity team, secured a major win in a collegiate cybersecurity competition this month that has vaulted the team to the top of national competition.
On Nov. 7, computer science students Blake Janes ‘22, Carl Mann ‘22, Stephanie Wood ‘21, Dave Breeden ‘21, Tiffanie Petersen ‘22, Isaiah Thomas ‘22 and Logan Suarez ’22 won the National Cyber League (NCL) Team Championships, beating over 3,900 teams to secure Florida Tech’s status as the top team in the nation.
FITSEC, along with second-place UCF and third-place SANS Technology Institute, finished the competition with the maximum 3,000 points and 100% accuracy. But FITSEC was faster to finish, earning its perfect score ahead of the others, thus clenching its victory.
FITSEC members noted how their individual strengths helped elevate the group: Janes’ ability to develop vulnerabilities in the web applications, Mann’s analysis of log files, and Wood’s and Breeden’s technical knowledge in binary reverse engineering. Janes serves as the team captain for FITSEC, and under his leadership, FITSEC established an effective system of verification and validation at NCL. Janes had two teammates independently solve each problem before agreeing on a solution to submit to the competition judges.
“We had a pretty solid process set up in terms of communicating with each other and making sure we were going to be correct every time, because this competition is not just graded on speed and ability to complete the challenges, but also the ability to complete them accurately,” Janes said.
Suarez credited the team’s diverse expertise in different fields for making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“There was a decent amount of domain-specific knowledge for the various games or stores and how they organized their data, and we all had a different background that contributed to all of that,” he said.
As the second team captain in FITSEC history, Janes has seen the program grow from three ambitious students to a university-sponsored team with nearly 100 members. The team credits university provost Marco Carvalho, Ph.D., for his enthusiastic support. Janes also credits his friend Josh Connolly ’21, a computer engineering graduate and FITSEC’s first captain, as building the charter and technical foundation for FITSEC. Janes has sought to grow the team from a collection of technical wizards to a tight-knit group of students that bond both in and outside of competition.
“We find that the competitors that socialize and hang out outside of the hacking stuff work so much better together. If you have someone you can trust and rely on, you know that you can give them the job and move on to something else,” Janes said. “Hacking is always more fun with friends.”
“One of the main ways we grew as individuals, and as a team, was sharing that knowledge with others in our club. I think that’s one of the strongest attributes we have, we put in the work to make these write-ups, and we share it with the rest of the club and try to improve their skills as well,” Wood said. “We want to do the competitions because they’re fun, but that’s just more teaching material that we have to teach the rest of the club.”
“We want our students, especially our new students, to know that FITSEC is open for all Florida Tech students to join,” he said. “If you would like to grow in your knowledge of cyber threats, we would love to have you on the team. Teaching new teammates strengthens the existing leaders on our team.”
The NCL holds its bi-annual tournament that pits the top 650 colleges and high schools against each other. Teams race to solve challenges representative of real-life cyber threats mapped to National Security Agency-aligned courses and the cybersecurity framework of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education.
When asked what’s next, the victorious team noted various competitions they are considering, including the National Security Agency’s Codebreaker Challenge and the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Members Petersen, Thomas and Mann will also organize and run a FITSEC capture-the-flag competition in late spring as part of an independent study project.