CIS Majors Become Hackers in a Thrilling Virtual 'Capture the Flag' Challenge

"The best way to catch a malicious person is to become a malicious person," said Lt. Casey Merry to a group of GMercyU Computer Information Science majors.

And with that, our students became hackers.

Lt. Merry, of the U.S. Air Force's 112th Cyber Operation Squadron, ran an exciting virtual exercise open to any GMercyU CIS major who wanted to test their cyber skills and learn first-hand how hackers attack a network. Lt. Merry presented students with a challenging network environment - they had to navigate that network, accessing multiple systems, to capture various files or "flags" from virtual machines.

During the competitive exercise, students used Metasploit, a tool for exploiting identified vulnerabilities, and Nmap, a network discovery tool. Both are from the Kali Linux operating system, which was created for testing for cyberattacks.

Senior Valentin Semenyuk took first place and described it as an "exhilarating" challenge. Senior William McGuire took second place.

"It forced us to use what we learned in a race against time to complete the challenge," said Valentin. "It was not only thrilling but once again proved to me that I made the right choice for my career in cybersecurity."

Students reviewed the skills learned and walked back through the exercises the next class day.

"Using these tools was somewhat new and having this opportunity really expanded the ideas I had about what I can do with the Kali Linux toolkit - and how exploits can be applied in order to gain access to various machines," said sophomore Mark Meade.

"Overall, it increased my understanding of basic penetration testing and showed how easily a hacker can gain access to systems with open ports."

Mark is majoring in CIS with a concentration in Cybersecurity. Pursuing work with the U.S. Air Force after graduation is one of his career ideas. "If I do join the Air Force, I would definitely like to do something within the cyber division, so this exercise was especially insightful for me," he said.