Illinois Tech Cybersecurity Student Organization Locks Down Record-Breaking National Championship



By Simon Morrow
Network Simulation

A team of students from Illinois Institute of Technology’s cybersecurity student organization CyberHawks won the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Cyber Games National Championship.

After winning the Midwest Regional championship by a landslide with a score of almost double the next highest team, the team went on to win the national championship with a record-breaking score. 

Sixty-five teams from 55 colleges competed in the competition overall.

The teams score points through both offensive and defensive measures. At nationals, the CyberHawks approached the competition with a methodical strategy that led to a come-from-behind victory. 

They spent extra time early in the competition creating robust defenses. This early trade-off had them ranked around fifth place for most of the competition, but it became the key to their climb to victory as they continued to gain a steady stream of points while other teams faltered.  

The CyberHawks were the first team to ever earn more than 5000 points in the competition, and they were the first team in Midwest Regionals history to receive the maximum possible number of points in the offensive portion.

“This competition was primarily focused on good teamwork and building up hands-on practical skills that would be beneficial in the real world,” says Sajeel Mehta (M.A.S. ITM 1st Year), who served as team leader for the competition.

“Competitions are an important part of the CyberHawks activities as they provide our members with the chance to practice their cybersecurity skills against professional penetration testers without the high-stakes environment out in the field,” says David Arnold (EE ’19, M.S CPE ’19, Ph.D. CPE Candidate), president of CyberHawks.

At nationals, Illinois Tech’s team featured engineering and computing students across the cybersecurity disciplines, including Mehta, Aurélien Agniel (M.A.S. CYBS 1st Year), Mohammed Chisti (CS, M.A.S. CYF 5th Year), My Dinh (CS 5th Year), John Ford (CCSE, M.S. CPE 3rd Year), Sarah Hugue (M.A.S. CYBS 1st Year), Ryan Timothy Rishab (M.A.S. CYBS 1st Year), Kreetha Sintawee (M.A.S. CYF 1st Year), and Wyatt Stevens (CS 1st Year).

Agniel, Ford, and Stevens led the team’s defensive measures by configuring network resources and establishing security within a virtual network. They received points based on how long their defenses held up against periodic infiltration attempts by professionals. 

The CyberHawks were the only team within the Midwest Regional competition to successfully get every required service running as part of the service setup and defense. 

Chisti, Dinh, Hugue, Rishab, Sintawee, and Mehta collaborated on the offensive strategy, earning points by completing challenges that tested their cryptography, exploitation, administration, programming, and cybersecurity knowledge.

Stevens received the CyberHawks Team Leadership Award at both the national and regional competitions. 

“Illinois Tech is a great place to study cybersecurity due to the amazing faculty and exposure to different education styles provided by the computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and information and technology management departments. Students can also get involved with the Illinois Tech CyberHawks to collaborate with other students on projects, explore new topics, and build on the foundation provided by the Illinois Tech coursework,” says Arnold.

Faculty advising the CyberHawks group include Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Erdal Oruklu as lead advisor, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Jia Wang as co-advisor, and Adjunct Faculty and Laboratory Engineer Won-Jae Yi as technology advisor.

The team has been invited to attend the National Institute for Cyber Education (NICE) Conference that will take place in Atlanta in June 2022.

Photo: Network simulation of the competition environment