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USF CyberHerd 5th place at CyberForce 2023

From left to right: Waseem Albaba (Captain), Jacob Cain, Enes Bulut, Jacob Hammargren, Brandon Gonzalez, John (Jack) Trigg, and Professor Marbin Pazos-Revilla

USF CyberHerd 5th place at CyberForce 2023

The USF team CyberHerd finished 5th place among 108 teams at the Department of Energy’s CyberForce 2023 competition, held on November 3 to 4, 2023, in St. Charles, Illinois. The CyberHerd team soared above 103 teams, including from Penn State, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Virginia Tech. 

“USF CyberHerd was formed in Spring 2023 by the department, with funding from CyberFlorida (the Florida Center for Cybersecurity), to train students to compete in national-level cybersecurity competitions and win them,” said Sudeep Sarkar, Chair of the USF Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Selection for the team is highly competitive and open to all 3000 students in the department pursuing degrees in cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, and computer engineering.

“Placing 5th after only one semester as a team shows the level of cyber talent USF has to offer, and I'm thrilled to see that continue to grow," said Jacob Hammargren (Senior, CyberSecurity).

“This is a remarkable accomplishment for a team that started training in August,” said Professor Marbin Pazos-Revilla. "As a coach, I am very proud of the USF CyberHerd Team's accomplishment at CyberForce. This team has devoted many nights and weekends to elevate and sharpen their cybersecurity skills and work effectively as a team, and the performance at CyberForce reflects that.”

The competition was an Industrial Control System scenario in which an energy aggregation and distribution company responded to many compromised smart meters.  Teams were scored on five metrics:

  • Ability of the team to solve a variety of CTF challenges or anomalies launched during competition
  • Resiliency of the energy aggregation/distribution services to withstand red team attack
  • Ability of the team to threat hunt and remediate attacks
  • Usability and QA testing of the web page
  • Documentation and media

“Competitions like The Department. of Energy’s CyberForce generate immense interest among students to compete in. Sharpening skills in a highly competitive environment like these serve to create very specialized soft skills among students that are critical to succeed in today’s complex cybersecurity work environments,” said Professor Sriram Chellappan, who serves a faculty mentor for the CyberHerd team.

As much a test of skill as endurance, the event began with a week-long pre-competition phase in which the teams raced to harden several systems, find vulnerabilities, and submit documentation and media addressed to the C-suite (CEO, CIO, and COO) of the company with a proposal to mitigate the risks presented by the smart meters. 

"The team and I spent countless hours preparing for the competition and we felt prepared," said Waseem Albaba (Senior, BS Cybersecurity), after a week of preparation. The tour-de-force finished with a 9-hour gauntlet of challenges from forensics, open-source intelligence, crypto, reverse engineering, network security, ICS security, and others.

"I'm honored to be a part of the herd from the beginning. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see a team of dedicated individuals work together towards a common goal like this. I'm excited to see where we will lead the team next in the coming years." said Brandon Gonzalez (Senior, BS CyberSecurity).

Travel to the competition was made possible by funds from the CSE Computing Parners Program (CPP).

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