Science & Tech

Penetration testing sounds risqué, but this term refers to the process companies undergo to test the strength of their security systems. Image: Dasser Kamran/The Fulcrum.
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On Jan. 9 and 10, a team of students from the University of Ottawa competed in the global Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition (CPTC), against 15 other teams. 

The team that competed under the grey and garnet banner was composed of Nicholas Znamenski, Logan Rodie, Cedric Brisebois, Sean Maher,  Brennan McDonald, and coach Guy-Vincent Jourdan. 

Penetration testing sounds risqué, but this term refers to the process companies undergo to test the strength of their security systems.

One of the team members, Rodie, explained that companies hire professionals to hack into their networks to ensure the system can’t be compromised by outsiders. A penetration testing team, “tells the companies where their weaknesses are then they help them fix the system.”

The finals, which are normally held in New York State, were virtual this year. So, the U of O team assembled a group of computer science students and prepared them to compete in the finals virtually. 

The team leader, Znamenski, said that preparations for this year’s competition, “were a challenge.” For example, he couldn’t run in-person club activities, which is where he typically recruits new talent.

Before the regional competition, Rodie said expectations “weren’t high, just to compete well.”

“I looked at the roster of schools who were invited, [and] I wasn’t really expecting to win.” But they did win, beating every Canadian school on the way and qualifying for the finals. 

Znamenski says that Rodie’s reporting software helped them stay organized and to ultimately win the regional competition. 

Znamenski said that he, “set-up an automated reporting tool for the team. The reporting tool templates a list of problems with the software into a Word document. And then we send that off to the client,” he said, this is what “helped us stay organized throughout the competition.” 

In the finals, the team was invited to compete against teams from Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, and Carnegie Mellon University. 

The team had two days to test a fake system from a fake power generation company. On top of this final task, they were expected to produce information to the power generation company upon request.

Rodie’s reporting software came in handy. It reduced the amount of information that the team had to manually input into software — saving them valuable time.

Znamenski said the competition wasn’t what he expected. He said, “it was different from anything that we’ve done in the past. But it surprised us in a good way. I liked it. A lot.”

Now, the team prepares for the next competition: the Computer Science Games (CSGames) in March and this competition includes mobile development, artificial intelligence, and reverse engineering. 

Rodie and Znamenski invite those who are interested in these games to join the Computer Science Club Discord Server.