A team of students from the Computing, Electronics & Networking Technologies (CENT) program at Honolulu Community College placed 4th in the fall 2015 National Cyber League (NCL) competition.

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Honolulu CC CENT students.

A total of 129 teams from over 80 colleges and universities throughout the nation competed. The NCL was first run in 2011 with a vision to “provide an ongoing virtual training group for collegiate students to develop, practice, and validate their cybersecurity skills using next-generation high-fidelity simulation environments.”

CENT Professor Aaron Tanaka used the NCL to enhance an Ethical Hacking course.  Three teams were formed using students from this class, along with three additional students who competed in the 2014 NCL.

The three teams were HCC-CENT, HCC-HATS, and HCC-Makai.  All three teams performed well, with HCC-CENT placing fourth in the nation.  The members of the HCC-CENT team are team captain, Jayson Hayworth, Taylor Kina, Kevin Ryan, Eric Kotake, Ahloy Chang, Derrick Le, and Nathan Fiesta.  The team captains for the other two teams are Gerome Catbagan (HCC-HATS), and Chance Kawasaki (HCC-Makai).

Honolulu Community College’s CENT program is a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense for Two-Year Education (CAE2Y IA/CD).

HCC-CENT team captain Jayson Hayworth provided a reflection of his experience.

1) What is the most memorable challenge of this NCL game?

The SMTP challenge (nicknamed The Baby Server) was the most memorable challenge of the game. At every turn the challenge would present you with a quirky message that caused hours of confusion and interest on our team. The most notable being the message displayed when you entered in an improper command: “I’m just a baby server, I don’t know a lot of things.”

2) What was the best aspect of this team event?

The strongest impact this challenge had on the teams was the ability to demonstrate how effective working together can be. It became extremely obvious how quickly we were able to blow through challenges when we were able to work in pairs and apply multiple minds to the same problem. We saw a consistent pattern within our group: one person would find a great clue and from there it would spark an idea and allow us to proceed through the entire challenge.

The third stenography challenge displayed this concept the most. It started off with just a picture of green text like you see in the movie The Matrix. One of our team members was able to find a hidden image inside of the Matrix file. But being stumped, he posted the image to our team collaboration tool Slack.

A quick Google image search by one of our other members found that it was a Circular Gallifreyan from the Dr. Who universe. Another member was quickly able to find a translator and we were able to work together to systematically decipher the meaning of the message.

This challenge touched the hands of our entire team within a 30-minute period. Out of the 9635 maximum point we obtained during the competition, this entire challenge was only worth 350 points, just a small chunk of what was required to finish. BabyServer

3) How much effort went into this competition between the team?

Our entire goal for this competition was to try as hard as possible on a Saturday starting at 9am until we were completely exhausted. We recognized the impact taking the entire week to complete the entire competition would have required on our team, especially with finals quickly approaching. On day one, all seven of our team members spent a minimum of 15 hours on the challenges provided; as a result we were able to complete 90% of the required point spread in just the first day.

But that wasn’t the end of it – there were still major challenges that needed to be solved. We didn’t finish the entire competition till Tuesday around 10:30 AM HST. In total our entire team spent approximately 200 combined hours in just a span of three days.  One member even participating in the NCL during a break between his examinations.

4) How excited are the students with coming in a strong finish in gold?

The entire challenge was a huge roller coaster ride for our team. It was an absolutely amazing experience that had us go from being absolutely ecstatic and screaming at in the middle of the night to being completely lost and dazed in a mirage of bits and bytes. I don’t think a single member regrets the amount of time and effort that we put into this team competition; we’re all so extremely proud of each other. The ability to connect on that level and to express our ideas and concepts freely was our most driving factor for success. Our students can’t wait for the next years games — we’ll be utilizing everything we’ve learned here and sharing it with all CENT students for the benefit of the program.