If you are an information technology or cybersecurity student with the opportunity to participate in a collegiate cyber defense competition I highly recommend you take advantage of it. If you don’t have the opportunity to join an existing team I suggest you make one!
Why? Because when you are tasked with defending a network you’ve never seen before, with one hand tied behind your back, while your CIO and CEO demand extensive reports and policies be written while you respond to intrusions … a lot of things start to click. Things that you’ve learned in class, or personal experimentation, get tied together within a greater context. You’ll learn from your teammates and be forced to learn new tools or concepts on the fly. And, if you’ve never been given administrative privilege in a network, not of your own design this is an extremely useful experience.
It’s a really, really bad day at work simulator.
It will test your nerves, communication skills, technical skills, team cohesion, and organizational skills.
You might stress-break-out but you’ll get a hell of a rush when you take back machines.
At some point, you’re going to think the hackers have taken down a service or system and, if you’ve kept good enough change logs, within five minutes you’ll discover that you, or a team member, hurt yourself by overhardening. If you don’t have good enough change logs or your team isn’t gracious and humble enough to absorb mistakes you’re gonna have a bad time. This fear is affectionately and resentfully referred to as The Ghost of Red Team. And it’s a perfect example of how psychological this event is. Unlike an athletic sport, you can’t compare your team’s performance to others, and you may not be sure about your adversaries’ performance either.
Similarly, if your team doesn’t have enough respect for business injects, such as the aforementioned policy writing assignments and reports, you will lose. It’s not the cool job and nobody wants to do it but you will lose if someone doesn’t do it and do it well. Just like you need all your services up as long as possible, you need every inject turned in and done as well as possible.
These competitions are incredible learning experiences and potentially good networking opportunities. In light of that, I’d like to be able to help students who are interested in cyber defense competitions get an idea of what they’re in for and how to prepare. I can’t and won’t get into specific detail about particular competitions. But, I can and will write what I would have liked to know about preparing for competitions in general. Hopefully, it’s beneficial to you.