May 1, 2017

Students from the Buena Vista University computer science department competed against each other and students from additional schools during BVU's fifth annual virtual Capture the Flag (CTF) computer security contest on April 8.

A total of 50 students competed in the contest from BVU and four other schools: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.; Taylor University in Upland, Ind.; Indiana Wesleyan University in – Marion, Ind.; and International Atatürk-Alatoo University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

During the attack-and-defend challenge, which was spread over eight hours of competition time, nine teams of four to six students from each of the participating schools had the opportunity to test their hacking skills in a real-time setting and were also assigned servers to protect. Teams accumulated points by capturing sensitive data or “flags” from the servers of their competitors, by keeping their services online and functional and by ensuring their servers were secure to prevent flag theft. Web cameras and projectors created a virtual window among contestants across the five remote sites for the duration of the contest. 

“The contest provides students with an opportunity to confront the complexities of software security head-on by diving into provided code that is littered with vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Nathan Backman, assistant professor of computer science at BVU and organizer of the event. “The students must adopt the mindset of a malicious hacker to understand the degree to which someone may exploit these vulnerabilities.”

“This event draws upon students' ability to integrate knowledge from across the computer science curriculum, resulting in a unique opportunity to challenge both themselves and their peers.”

Dr. Nathan Backman

This year's contest marked the first in which there were international participants. Backman, who was selected as one of BVU's 2016 McCorkle Fellows to travel to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in August, had the opportunity to meet with faculty at the International Atatürk-Alatoo University, including the department chair of the university's computer science program.

“I mentioned my work in developing BVU's CTF contest and he seemed genuinely intrigued,” said Backman. “Our event has been in varying states of expansion over the past few years and I thought this might be a good opportunity to go internationally. In the spring, I invited them to participate and they registered a team. The Kyrgyzstan students had to work through the night, unfortunately, and many dropped off into the early hours of the morning but they did develop exploits and successfully capture flags, which was terrific.”

The event was structured in a bracket-style competition model that allows for increased scalability and participation from additional universities in the future, with the nine teams divided into two groups.

A BVU team took second place in the Group 2 bracket, which included Hunter Schmitt, a senior computer science major from Atlantic; Garrett Beebe, a junior computer science and pre-engineering major from Griswold; Emily Brewer, a freshman computer science major from Cherokee; and Brady Clark, a senior computer science major from Eldora.

Other BVU student participants included:

  • Loc Pham, a senior computer science major from Storm Lake
  • Dylan WolfTornabane, a senior computer science major from Storm Lake
  • Colin Hansen, a senior computer science major from Winside, Neb.
  • Dipendra Upreti, a freshman computer science major from Gajuri, Nepal
  • David Simon Sebit Arona, a freshman physics major from Juba, South Sudan
  • Austin Jerich a sophomore computer science major from Eden Prairie, Minn.
  • Aaron Nicolaisen, a sophomore computer science and business double major from Correctionville
  • Matthew Swanson, a junior computer science major from Storm Lake
  • Ekene James, a senior computer science major from Accra, Ghana
  • Colby Snyder, a freshman computer science major from Storm Lake

Computer Science at BVU

Explores the theory, design, and implementation of software and computational systems. Using mathematical concepts and programming languages, BVU Computer Science students model and solve problems with logic and creativity.