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Tech-minded students convene at Cyber Security Club

By Rob Wilson, Contributing Writer

Picture this: A group of UNH Student Cyber Security Club members cramped in a Kingsbury Hall room while competing against 30-plus schools across the nation.

It’s a typical night for the group.

The Cyber Security Club is an organization within the computer science department. On the UNH computer science webpage, it says that the group creates, hosts and/or participates in capture the flag events; develops work study and internship relationships; assists UNH IT in securing the campus; and of course, participates in regional and national events hosted by NSA, DoD, DHS and others.

As for the competitions, sometimes members would rather compete in their own room, lounging around in pajamas, said Charles Valenza, a current junior at UNH and competitive leader for the Cyber Security Club.

And that’s one of the benefits of being involved in a computer-based organization; you can go wherever the computer can.

“As long as you are logged in to the same UNH account you can practically compete anywhere,” Valenza said.

Competitions are scattered throughout the year, all depending on the interest of the members to compete. The club has found itself competing in four to five competitions a year for the past five years since it has been established.

Scoring for these competitive events is set up just like in Jeopardy, with five categories ranging from 100 to 500 points, said Greg Hilston, a UNH senior and leader of the Cyber Security Club.

“These questions range from ‘Do you know how to search the Web for specific information?’ to ‘Can you reverse engineer this code?’” Hilston said. “The skill set ranges a lot, but it is good for the newcomers who recently joined the club and can contribute to the more basic questions in the competition.”

Over the years, UNH placed second, fourth and recently sixth out of 10 other regional schools  in the Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Even though it has been four years since the Cyber Security Club has reached its peak placement at second, the group aims to get better as a unit.

“The key thing to take away from these competitions in recent memory is that our club members are not cyber security majors,” Hilston said. “Most of the other schools we compete against do offer that major and have those students competing against us. For us, the only avenue we have is to learn this stuff on our own time. It means more to us when we place because it is 100 percent on our own time, student-driven.”

Ken Graf, original founder and faculty adviser of the Cyber Club sees a bright future for them.

“From the first year of only having two members, to now in the fifth of having close to 30 members is a big change,” Graf said.

Competing is not the only thing the club does.

“We are all about promoting general cyber security practices,” Valenza said. “If you come to our meetings, you will learn a few things as far as using your phone or computer. Our goal is to teach people about the risks of computer technology and the best ways to protect themselves.”

Another opportunity that the club offers is actual jobs.

Hilston and one other senior club member have already been offered full-time guaranteed jobs after they get out of school thanks to the experience of cyber security.

“The nice thing about these competitive events is that they are usually heavily sponsored by corporations around the country,” Graf said. “Students that compete are being recruited by these corporations. It’s just another reason why this club has its personal success, because we all need jobs to live.”

The club has a lot to offer and is open to anyone who has interest. The members of the club have a wide variety in the major spectrum from philosophy to mathematics. The club meets on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. at Kingsbury Hall in room N101.

This weekend, the Cyber Security Club will be competing in a 48-hour period from Friday to Saturday against over 24 schools at the CSAW event, hosted by the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering.

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