Cal Poly Pomona’s cyber defense team will make a return trip to the national championships after winning the regional competition for the fourth consecutive year.
The eight-member team, coached by lecturer and alumnus Brandon Brown, defeated nine other schools to win the event March 23-25 at the Fairplex Sheraton’s Exposition Center in Pomona. Cal State San Bernardino finished second and Cal State Dominguez Hills placed third.
“We trained very hard all year,” says Brown, who is also a manager at NIC Partners, a network integrator. “Starting last July, we had almost 50 students from three colleges [Business Administration, Science and Engineering] try out for the team. Over the course of the unofficial season last fall, we were undefeated in every competition, and we ran a junior varsity team that was competitive against many top schools across the country.”
The regional competition pitted each team against a group of hackers that tried to disrupt operations and spy on activities. The hackers, cyber security professionals known as the Red Team, forced the competitors to maintain service while fending off relentless challenges. Teams earned points for their technical skills as well as their presentations before judges. Cal Poly Pomona placed first overall defense and service provider points and second in business problem solutions.
The national competition, scheduled for April 20-22 in San Antonio, focuses exclusively on the technical aspects of cyber security, says Dan Manson a computer information systems professor in the College of Business Administration and a driving force behind the university’s cyber security accomplishments.
“It’s all about operating systems, Red Team attacks and maintaining services,” Manson says. “The championship involves fewer hours, but it is every bit as intense if not more so.”
Cal Poly Pomona finished third two years ago and sixth last year. “That really reflects how tough the competition is,” Manson says. The University of Washington, the reigning national champion, returns to the finals and must be considered one of the favorites, along with Texas A&M, the University of Wyoming and the Air Force Academy.
The regional competition included a keynote address from an alumna who plays a critical role in cyber defense.
Mahvash Yazdi, senior vice president of business integration and chief information officer for Southern California Edison, focused on emerging cyber threats, including those to the nation’s infrastructure. “No one is immune,” she told the gathering, highlighting the increasing sophistication of cyber invaders.
Yazdi, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Cal Poly Pomona in business administration in 1974, closed with a call to action during her PowerPoint presentation: “You are on the front line, watching the hackers knock on our door. They will be persistent … they will continue to become more and more sophisticated. This is your challenge. The defense … must not only match their strategy, it must continue to evolve in order to block the intrusion. It is a challenging job, but I have confidence that you are up for the job.”