Cyber@UCI: Club’s Growing Cybersecurity Community Develops Third-Place Team

April 15, 2019

In 2017, when the Cyber@UCI student club was just starting out, computer science major and founding club president Howard Chen noted in an article, “in two years, I want Cyber to be an official ICS club and I want a competitive cybersecurity team operating out of UCI.” Fast forward to 2019, and Cyber@UCI is not only an official club of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), but its National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) team advanced to the Western Regional Championship for the first time and took third place overall!

Competitive Cybersecurity Team
“I am still amazed by how the new CCDC team came together to reach even greater heights,” says Chen, who graduated in 2018 and is now an information security specialist at MeridianLink. He supported the 2019 team by helping run practices. “This year was a challenge for the team from every angle, which makes me especially proud of just how well they’ve done.”

The CCDC team after winning third place (from left): Rachel Weber, Aaron Stein, Orbel Golanians, Micah Raney, faculty sponsor Ray Klefstad, David Parra, Shawn Hill, Morgan Ling, Jeanelle Guardado and alumnus adviser Howard Chen.

The team, led by senior informatics major Orbel Golanians and faculty sponsor Ray Klefstad, earned the top spot of the UC schools competing and brought back a trophy for Donald Bren Hall. Golanians says he joined the Cyber@UCI club as soon as he transferred to UCI.

“The club welcomes anyone regardless of how much they currently know about the field of cybersecurity,” he says. “We focus on learning together, where experienced members teach basic concepts to new members.”

Workshops, Competitions and Opportunities
In fact, the CCDC team is just one component of Cyber@UCI. The club also offers security workshops, sponsors Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions and provides opportunities for members to connect with professionals in the field. According to Golanians, “workshops are a great option for students to jump right in and gain a solid understanding about the presented topic.” Members and nonmembers alike are welcome to attend, and the workshops usually have anywhere from 10-50 participants.

Golanians also participated in the club’s 2018 CTF competition, which presented a set of security problems in different categories (such as encryption or web applications), and participants received points for every problem solved. “I really enjoyed the physical challenges, which involved finding solutions to flags by exploring the campus and finding small hints or details, like a true anteater! It made a regular day on campus more exciting.”

Cyber@UCI president Jacob Sigismonti, a founding member of the club, says the CTF competition attracted 100 participants. “Last year we built our own competition, and this year we are competing in UCLA’s.” The daylong event takes place Saturday, April 20.

“My goal as president is to build a community of people interested in hacking and cybersecurity that will help each other in the learning process,” says Sigismonti. “In this day and age, there are many more resources for learning this kind of stuff, but there aren’t really structured paths to get started, so it’s really helpful to work with others who are trying to achieve the same goal.”

According to software engineering major and club member Rachel Weber, “the club is a great place for networking and for exchanging news related to the cybersecurity industry, and it contributes to my education by encouraging me to participate in educational cybersecurity competitions, especially the CCDC.”

In just two years, Chen and Sigismonti have succeeded in building a strong community of cybersecurity leaders. If you’re interested in being a part of Cyber@UCI, visit their website or join their Facebook group.

Shani Murray