Students face off in cyber defense competition

Published: Feb. 1, 2020 at 9:30 PM CST
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Dozens of college students from across Wisconsin competed on Saturday to be the best cyber defense team.

Madison College hosted the state competition, which included teams from five schools, a total of 40 students.

Teodoro Santana was part of the team from Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. Santana said this is the school's first time participating in the competition.

Santana said his uncle introduced him to computers when he was just 12.

"He had a computer out that he was taking apart and I accidentally tripped over it," Santana remembered, adding that his uncle explained how networks and computers work.

From that point, Santana was hooked. He said he enjoys the complexity of the technology.

"There's so much behind the scenes that you don't notice or know," he said.

Santana is now in his first year at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, studying information technology (IT) and cybersecurity.

On Saturday, Santana and his classmates put their skills to the test in the statewide Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Student teams spent the day protecting a mock business against real-time attacks from a team of hackers.

"They have ways of hiding programs, hiding themselves and sometimes you don't even know if they're in," Santana explained.

At the same time, teams also had to perform tasks the way they would for real businesses, like writing memos and setting up email servers.

Waukesha Technical College teacher Mark Krzyszkowski has been teaching technology for 20 years. He said these cybersecurity skills are crucial to protecting company secrets and personal information.

"It's a round-the-clock attack so it's a round-the-clock job to protect against it," Krzyszkowski explained.

Competitions like Saturday's help prepare students for what they will face in the real world.

"Somebody on the job is going to have to fix their email server, fix and protect against something right now," Krzyszkowski said.

For Santana, this competition helps strengthen his passion for cybersecurity.

"I would definitely love to work with a team and be able to make it my job to protect people and stuff like that," he said.

Unfortunately, Santana's team did not place high enough to qualify for the regional competition.

UW-Stout placed first and will head to regionals in March. Waukesha Technical College placed second. They will compete against second place teams from other states for a chance at a wild card spot at regionals.