UVA for the (Cyber)defense: Hoos Net Regional Trophy

April 14, 2023 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

The University of Virginia’s Cyberdefense team scored a victory at the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and will advance to the national competition in Dallas for the fifth time in the past six years.

The regional championship, sponsored by Raytheon Intelligence & Space, featured eight collegiate teams competing at the Prince George’s Community College Center for the Performing Arts in Largo, Maryland. It was the first in-person regional competition since 2019.

The teams competed for two days, with the “defenders” – the competing teams – protecting a real-world business infrastructure against online attackers while interacting with stakeholders, such as the chief executive officer and the company’s executive board. The competition tests students’ abilities in real-world environments, including performance under pressure, communications and maintaining business continuity. It also tests students’ technical communication skills, such as crafting concise and precise technical reports and delivering presentations.

“This was a huge accomplishment for the team,” said Emil Baggs, a fourth-year computer science major and team captain. “We’ve been putting a ton of time into practicing the last month and a half, and it was great to see all of our hard work really pay off.”

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During the competition, the eight-member team defended the computer network for “Hulk Bulk Shipping.” The network, providing critical services for the fictional shipping business, was being attacked by a “Red Team” that tried to disrupt services. The defenders did not know the size of the network they would be defending until about 12 hours before the competition.

The in-person competition created a new dynamic for the defenders who had no access to computers or the internet outside of those that were part of the competition.

“This means the laptop you are sitting at might have a keylogger sending the hackers everything that you are doing while you are working to secure the system,” Baggs said. “The main challenge I think we hit was just realizing that we needed to be OK with the fact that a lot of the plans that we had formulated in practice fell through during the competition. This round was probably the craziest competition I’ve ever seen, but the way we won was by just staying calm and prioritizing our efforts in the specific directions that we knew other teams would struggle in.”

Baggs said after the first day, the team identified key areas to plan out for the second day, while having no idea of how they were faring against the other defense teams.

“Our team is extremely flexible in dealing with unexpected changes and environments and quickly adapting to them in a very collegial manner,” said team adviser Yonghwi Kwon, the John Knight Career Enhancement Assistant Professor in Computer Science. “Over the years, I have observed that the team is very adaptive, resilient and persistent to uncertain cyberthreats. I believe such capability is what we want for future cybersecurity in general.”

Kwon cited the students’ attitude as being an essential element of their success.

“Our team is always collegial and fun,” Kwon said. “And the students are super excellent at managing a stressful environment.”

‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan
‘Inside UVA’ A Podcast Hosted by Jim Ryan

Aside from Baggs, the team consists of Chris Marrota, a third-year computer science major; Grant Matteo, a fourth-year computer science major; Kyle McDonald, a third-year computer science major; Aleksander Schultz, a third-year computer science and economics major; Chase Hildebrand, a third-year computer science and math major; Shreyas Mayya, a first-year computer science major; and Nicholas Winschel, a second-year computer science and math major.

UVA won the regional competitions in 2018 and 2019, and the regional trophy will once again reside in Charlottesville.  

“Our team is excellent and I believe our team is always one of the best in the nation,” Kwon said. “However, that doesn’t make the competition easier. We will try our best to excel, not just to win the competition, but to learn and improve cybersecurity skills. The experiences students obtain in the competition are invaluable, and I hope this will really help them, and in the long run, the national cybersecurity capability.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications