Hundreds of students compete in Cyber Storm

Computer science and cyber engineering students compete in a 'hackathon' to see who's the best of the best. (Source: KNOE)

RUSTON, La. (KNOE) - Cyber Storm 2019 is a yearly competition young minds here at Louisiana Tech look forward to in the spring.

On the surface, this is the final exam for hundreds of computer science and cyber engineering students. But on the flip side, it's a test to see who has what it takes to become a hacker.

"So in one sense, it's just a Final Exam. In another though, it's an event in itself that's raising awareness of cybersecurity," said Dr. Jean Gourd, Associate Professor and Program Chair of Computer Science at Louisiana Tech.

The daylong, 12-team competition tests what students have learned by providing challenges and lets them earn points using networks that they built. Competitors describe it as a cyber scavenger hunt.

"So they're doing things like steganography,” Dr. Gourd described. “So we've hidden for example messages, and images, or audio files, or video files, or even movies. And they have to find out what's there, if anything is there, and if so, where is it?"

Students were able to use the defensive and offensive side of hacking. And not to worry, no actual network was harmed in this competition.

"Here, we own every piece of infrastructure. It's completely aside or apart from the production network at Louisiana Tech University. So they aren't touching anything like that. So everything is completely isolated, and they're able to apply what they've learned without fearing that they're going to touch some technology or information technology system that they otherwise should not be touching," said Dr. Gourd.

This year's theme was ancient civilizations. And with a nail-biting finish, the ‘Egyptians’ came out on top.

"Contradiction to the last challenge, we knew we were going to win. We knew from the beginning. We had the team motto, 'we're going to win, we're going to win,'" said competitor Hunter Allen. “But, we couldn't do this however without Gorge, the Tech, everyone. It was a lot of fun."

Even with the thrill of victory, these kids say there's a lot they'll miss about the competition.

"It is a little bittersweet. We had a lot of fun. We made great friends, and we're likely to talk to each other more, but at the end of the day it was a lot of high stress and can't wait to relax a little," said Allen.

Past themes of this competition have included Chuck Norris vs. Bruce Lee, video game characters and the Houses of Hogwarts.