UVU students beat top-tier schools in cybersecurity competition

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by Alessia Love

The “WOLV3R1NES”, a team of UVU students from the National Securities Study program, competed among prestigious, highly-renowned universities on March 4 and 5 in the Atlantic Council Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge — an international cybersecurity competition — and were crowned the winners.

The competition had a total of  two rounds. In each round, every team was given a hypothetical scenario that mimicked inasmuch as possible a realistic cybersecurity issue.

UVU’s team was given a scenario in which Iran seemed to be behind the cyberattack against the United States. As the competition went on, the team discovered that Iran was partnered with a criminal organization in Romania, and they were gunning to steal surface-to-air missiles from the United States and hamstring the U.S.’s  ability to send aid to Nigeria. The students’ task was to write two short responses which provided policymakers options on how to deal with the catastrophe. 

For the team of students, the competition was a thrilling and fulfilling opportunity that allowed them to showcase their talent, dedication and training. 

“Enlightening” is the word one team member, Edward Goebel, would use to describe his experience in the strategy challenge. 

Goebel is studying political science with an emphasis in global politics. For him, the best part of the experience was discussing major national issues with people who share his passion for the subject. He enjoyed talking with pragmatists who were willing to set aside the rancor in politics and work with others in order to find possible solutions. 

“I thought it was rewarding to put so much time and effort into a project that really yielded some good results,” said Andrew Jensen who is studying national security and computer science. “We put in a lot of work for this. So I think it was rewarding to see we put in so much effort, and that that effort turned into us winning the competition.” 

The most important thing Jensen learned while competing is the importance of separating into teams and understanding that every team member has a unique and individual role to play. 

“That was something really effective that we did,” said Jensen. “We all said, ‘Here’s our specialties’, ‘Here’s where we’re really good’, ‘How can we work together to make the team the best?’”

According to Goebel and Jensen, their professors and advisers played critical roles throughout the whole process and were infinitely helpful in preparing the students to do their best work. In addition to their instructor Professor Jonathan Rudd – an adjunct professor who teaches criminal justice – they had an alumni team member stationed in D.C. and another industry professional helping them. 

The advisers helped the students understand the environment and how to break down information to communicate it to the policymakers. They also helped the students know what solutions they could suggest and which members of the intelligence community would be most capable of enacting those solutions. In doing so, their mentors highlighted one great benefit UVU students have – access to industry professionals and faculty that have industry experience to guide them along.

When UVU competed for their first time last year, they ranked highly, and this year they made it into the finals for the first time. 

“We were underdogs in this competition,” Jensen said. “We got into the final room of the competition where we were with two other teams. They said, ‘Look at you, UVU! We’ve been watching you!’ We definitely came in as underdogs, but we worked as hard as we could to come out on top.”

Andre Jones, one of the advisers, is quoted by Goebel to have said that UVU students have a scrappiness and grittiness about them, since they were willing to put in so much effort.

“If you’re a student and you’re interested in national security, or if any of this sounds interesting to you, UVU is a great place to do it,” said Goebel.