Concordia undergrads win a national cybersecurity competition
The excitement of being a part of the top cybersecurity team in Canada has not yet sunk in for Tristan Gosselin-Hane and Alexandre Lavoie, undergraduate students in Concordia’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering and cybersecurity enthusiasts.
This summer, their team Cubermitis topped the leaderboard at the CyberSCI national Capture-The-Flag (CTF) cybersecurity competition. Nicolas Berbiche and Charles Guertin from École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) round out the winning team.
They will now go on to represent Canada at the European and International CyberSCI competitions in Prague and Athens this fall and winter respectively.
The underdog team spirit
CTF events are a specific kind of cybersecurity competition, where participants must beat challenges to obtain the highest score, including by collecting “flags” embedded in those challenges. The competitions are known to kickstart careers in cybersecurity for successful young competitors.
Cubermitis is a CTF team formed primarily of students from ÉTS and Concordia’s Gosselin-Hane.
“When one of our regional team members became ineligible for the national competition, I reached out to Alexandre,” Gosselin-Hane explains. “He’s a fellow Concordian whom I’d never met in person due to the pandemic, but we had a few run-ins at previous online CTF competitions. I knew he would be a good fit for our team.”
Cubermitis typically excels in software development, site reliability engineering and just a bit of information security. The team members knew they would face tough, specialized competitors.
“We definitely came in with a ‘let’s do our best and we’ll be happy no matter what’ attitude,” Lavoie recalls. “This mindset probably helped us unknowingly stay calm and not stress too much beforehand. I also met most of the team for the first time the day of the event, but from the start there was a very strong chemistry.”
Although the competition was virtual, the four team members secluded themselves in separate cottages, with only their equipment and nature around them, to avoid distraction. It also allowed them to come together quickly.
By the end of the first day, they led the pack by almost double the assigned points.
Keys to success
Communication: Cubermitis’s winning strategy centred around a process of open communication. One member would throw out an idea, another would build upon it and eventually someone else would end up solving the problem.
Project management: The team stayed organized and made sure that everyone was working on different things so that no work was duplicated. They immediately created a variety of separate text channels to gather and share information about each challenge and made sure that everyone had the necessary information to work on those challenges.
Believing: Lavoie and Gosselin-Hane stress the importance of trusting in your abilities and believing in yourself and your skills. “Don’t let yourself be demotivated because of all the people you think are better than you. After all, some people might be all talk and no show,” Gosselin-Hane says.
‘I’ve always wanted to make cybersecurity more accessible’
The second day of competition, Cubermitis struggled. As the scoreboard clock wound down with 30 minutes left in the competition, the team members hoped that their resounding lead the day before would help keep them on the podium. And it did.
The team placed first in Canada, beating out well-established CTF teams. Gosselin-Hane and Lavoie put Concordia’s undergraduate students on the national cybersecurity map.
“I’ve always wanted to make cybersecurity more accessible,” Lavoie says. “I’d love to graduate knowing I’ve made an impact on cybersecurity at Concordia.”
Learn more about Concordia’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering.