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Academic team protects software systems

March 30th, 2017

By Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana Tech students Matt Hansen coaches don’t compete on fields or in games with balls.

Rather, they earn their state championship rings navigating scenarios information technology departments might encounter, such as having to battle computer viruses, security holes and other cyber threats while maintaining regular business services, like email and e-commerce.

“We are under immense pressure to get these things done,” Hansen said, calling the competitions “real world to an immense extreme.”

They are the Cyber Warriors, an academic team that recently won its third straight state championship in the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition that included competitors from Purdue and Indiana universities.

Although the team is in its 11th year, has eight state titles, has advanced to regionals nine times and has gotten to nationals twice, it continues to struggle for recognition, said Hansen, team adviser and adjunct professor with Indiana Tech’s School of Computer Science.

Rewarding the team with championship rings last year – a first for the Cyber Warriors – was part of an ongoing attempt to show academic sports exist, he said.

The Cyber Warriors are a lot like their athletic counterparts. They hold tryouts in the fall, they travel for competitions, they have varsity and junior varsity members, and they practice regularly year-round, Hansen said, hedging the team’s time commitment exceeds athletes’.

Because the team members don’t know what awaits them at competitions, they train for everything, Hansen said. He compared their training to preparing for a certain game show.

“How do you study for ‘Jeopardy!’?” he asked.

Team captain Ian Springer, a senior network engineering major, said the team is more than an extracurricular activity; it’s a résumé-booster. For many in IT, he said, security isn’t their focus, so “you really stand out” when you are that one person with those skills.