For the first time ever, the Community College Cyber Summit (3CS) – held this August at Mt. Hood Community College – will include a National Cyber League (NCL) demonstration, giving cybersecurity students the opportunities to show off their network hacking
and password cracking skills to potential employers. The three-day summit will kick off with the NCL demonstration and Pre-Summit Job Fair on Thursday, Aug. 2.
The nonprofit NCL coordinates virtual high school and collegiate cybersecurity competitions nationwide. During these tournaments, students solve puzzle-based challenges meant to test their abilities in exploiting website and computer program weaknesses,
encrypting and decrypting passwords, identifying IP addresses, and performing similar hacking tasks.
“The competition really gives you a reality check,” described Shane Meyer, a second-year student in MHCC’s Cybersecurity and Networking program. “It shows how you rank nationally, stacked up against other cybersecurity students, and allows you to
directly apply your classroom training.”
For Meyer, who does cybersecurity contract work on the side, participating in the competition helped him polish his skills in website exploitation testing and similar areas. And then there’s the experience gained researching the myriad of online hacking
tools available to solve the tournament problems.
“A big part of it is just discovering the tools and resources available to you to crack computer codes,” Meyer added. “Plus, you learn you can tackle many of these problems from multiple angles.”
Wilbert Myers, Jr., another second-year student in MHCC’s cybersecurity program, described the team-based side of the competition as advantageous for him. Pre-season and regular season competitions are done individually, whereas post-season events
include teams of 2-to-5 students. Students typically communicate with each other via email and online chat, working through their assigned problems individually and seeking assistance from team members if needed.
“The competition puts you in an environment where you need to work within a team,” said Myers. “Each team member usually has an identified strength. Plus, when you’re working together, you’re able to learn from one another and find new methods of
solving these challenges.”
MHCC students participate in the NCL tournaments typically twice a year, competing against students from both two- and four-year cybersecurity education programs nationwide. During the pre-season competition, students place in either the Gold (top
15 percent of competitors), Silver, or Bronze brackets.
“The competitions really tie all that our students learned in the classroom together,” said Paul Morris, a cybersecurity instructor at MHCC and coach to the college’s NCL teams. “It builds upon what we do here at MHCC and helps better prepare students
to earn industry certifications.”
Last November, MHCC fielded eight NCL teams of five students each. Three teams competed at the Silver level and five at the Bronze. One of the Silver teams placed 95th in the nation.
“In the past, we’ve had teams achieve as high as third place nationally,” added Morris. “This spring, we’re looking forward to fielding some high-ranking Gold-level teams.”