Tech’s cybersecurity penetration team among nation’s best

Celebrating a second-place showing at The Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition regionals at Missouri S&T are Tennessee Tech team penetration team members (from left) Darren Cunningham, Sam Wehunt, captain Joe Bivens, coach Joseph Cross, Max Layer, David Yantis and Connor Gannon.

COOKEVILLE – Tennessee Tech’s cybersecurity penetration team has hacked its way into the nation’s top 10.

After finishing second in The Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition regionals, the team consisting of Joe Bivens, Connor Gannon, Sam Wehunt, David Yantis, Darren Cunningham, Max Layer and coach Joseph Cross, then advanced to the CPTC nationals in Rochester, New York.

As one of 10 teams to compete at nationals, Tech came away with the Best Presentation Award.

“I was very proud of my team even before making it to nationals,” said Tech cybersecurity technologist Joseph Cross. “So, getting the Best Presentation Award was just extra icing on the cake for me.”

Making it to nationals and competing against the best penetration teams in the country was no cake walk for Tech students.

The CPTC is a two-phase event consisting of regionals and nationals narrowing down to only 10 schools for the final event. Each school’s team assumes the role of a risk assessment team hired by the company to evaluate its security posture. The volunteer competition staff spends months before the competition developing a make-believe company complete with a narrative, company mission statement, employees, personalities, LinkedIn and other social media accounts, websites, servers, network infrastructure, company drama, almost everything you would expect to see at an actual business.

Each team at the national level had a single weekend to perform various tasks including intelligence gathering of the company’s and employee’s social media pages, website reconnaissance, engage in social interactions with people role playing as administrative employees, perform penetration testing of the company’s network and resources, maintain real-world professional ethics and best practices, gather all findings into a report and develop a presentation to be given to a mock board of directors, all while handling simulated business injections to represent unexpected events that could happen in an actual assessment.

“Competitions like CPTC bring such a valuable opportunity to our students; they provide a unique experience that allow students to develop skills that directly translate to the workforce,” said Cross. “More than just having the technical skills, students are required to have quality writing, oratory, and leadership skills if they hope to perform well.”

For their efforts, the entire Tech penetration team is being recognized by the board of trustees on Thursday at the quarterly board meeting at 1:30 p.m.

“Participating in national CPTC was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to step into the shoes of a real penetration testing firm,” said Cross. “This competition was an excellent learning experience for all team members and placed special emphasis on the importance of communication skills (both verbal and written).”

Working on a team penetration exercise are Tech students (from left) Darren Cunningham, Max Layer, David Yantis, Connor Gannon, Sam Wehunt and Joe Bivens.

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