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BYU Team Overcomes Odds and Places Second at Cybersecurity Competition

The Collegiate Social Engineering Competition and Training Event began in 2020 to create a place where cybersecurity students could test their abilities in real-life situation simulations. BYU achieved great results, all while staying firm in their faith.

Temple University hosted the national Collegiate Social Engineering Competition and Training Event from October 22 to October 24, presenting the final seven teams with the chance to practice cybersecurity in a social science sphere. A team of four BYU students outperformed nearly all competitors in this virtual event, despite missing a portion of the competition on Sunday.

On the BYU cybersecurity team were seniors Kira Gedris and Micheal Erickson and juniors Ian Cook and Quincy Taylor. Each brought different strengths to the team, which allowed the students to work effectively and harmoniously. Finals began at 10am on October 22, and the team worked continuously, pulling all-nighters on three taxing exercises.

The first exercise, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), required the students to perform security research and reconnaissance on an assigned target. For another, the team prepared simulated phishing. Finally, for Vishing, the team simulated live voice calls to the competition judges, who acted as targets.

The work didn't stop there, though. Throughout the competition, these students also wrote and presented formal reports on their work. Cook commented that his teammates' proficient writing gave them an advantage. So, with each task came a new success that increased the team's chance of placing on the podium for the first time. However, the final day presented a challenge.

Teams would need to showcase their final presentation on Sunday. Due to religious beliefs, the BYU cybersecurity team wanted to avoid competing on their Sabbath day. Boldly, they requested to submit their presentation as a recording instead. The competition allowed this alternate option, but not without limitations. The team would have to miss the live Q&A following the presentation and inevitably lose points.

The team agreed to lose the points.

Taylor, who also participated in the competition last year, initially felt confident in her team’s performance. They had improved tremendously compared to the last time they had competed. "We were a good mix of people that were already kind of friends. So, we weren't ever frustrated or anything like that," Taylor said. "[There was] a lot of good advice sharing, technique sharing amongst us all."

Due to the point loss, though, Taylor said they no longer expected place in the top three, but still kept some hope that they might snag third place.

At the competition's conclusion, the team tuned into Zoom and listened as the judges announced the final rankings. When another team placed third, their hopes dropped. It seemed the seniors had missed their last chance to get on the podium.

Then their lost hopes came rushing back. The judges revealed the second place winners: BYU. Spirits soared and the team celebrated. Despite skipping the lost points, they had performed well-enough to place second and take home $2000.

Their achievement assured them that they not only made the right choice, but that their hard work had value in the cybersecurity world. “Getting second place really validated that lack of sleep,” Cook joked. “It made it worth it in the end.”