HCU Cyber Engineering team wins first place in “Capture the Flag” cyber competition

Houston, Texas, Dec. 7, 2023 – A team of Houston Christian University (HCU) cyber engineering students won first place in the 2023 Capture the Flag (CTF) competition in the annual Alamo AFCEA chapter event (Alamo ACE) held at the La Cantera Resort in San Antonio, Texas, Nov. 13 – 16. This year’s win marks the second time a team from HCU has won the top award at the annual conference.

HCU seniors, Ethan Thomas, Ashley Huynh, Olachi Ajawara, and Leonardo Yerena, and juniors, Krzysztof Turski and Alicia Martinez competed on the “CrackDaCode” team to take home the top award.

The CTF is a competitive event where undergraduate and graduate college students compete to solve challenges in different areas of cybersecurity, including reverse engineering, cryptography, web vulnerabilities, memory forensics, network vulnerabilities and data analytics.

Dr. Katie Evans, HCU Dean of the College of Science and Engineering, expressed pride in the students in this year’s competition.

“I am so proud of all of our students who competed and, especially, the team that earned first place. San Antonio is a hot spot of cybersecurity talent and infrastructure. It is a major recognition for our students, our engineering program, and HCU to win the Capture the Flag competition at the Alamo AFCEA event,” said Evans.

Dr. Stephen Lyford, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at HCU, echoed Evan’s sentiments and applauded the team for their achievement and the preparation that preceded their first-place win.

“We are very proud of our students’ accomplishments. We had the utmost confidence that they would do well, but they have exceeded our expectations. They have worked very hard and spent countless hours preparing and practicing for this event.  To prepare for this event, students used skills and knowledge learned in class as well as outside studies and preparations. Some of that preparation included competing in other competitions like the National Cyber League (NCL) cyber competitions,” said Lyford.

In addition to garnering a first-place win, more than 20 HCU students participated in the annual NCL cyber competition that draws over 10,000 students from more than 500 colleges/universities and 100 high schools across the U.S. Two HCU teams finished in the top 10 percent of the nation with one team ranking in the top 3 percent.

As a part of these competitions, students were tasked with identifying hackers from forensic data, pen-testing and auditing vulnerable websites, recovering from ransomware attacks, and more. Participating schools rank based on their top team performance, their top student’s individual performance, and the aggregate individual performance of their students.

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About Houston Christian University

For more than 60 years, Houston Christian University has equipped students to lead, collaborate and embody a deep sense of spiritual purpose. The University offers a wide range of majors, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs, as well as NCAA Division I athletics in the Southland Conference. Located in the heart of one of the nation’s largest metropolitan centers, HCU’ culture of excellence molds the next generation of educated disciples to be pillars in their communities, preparing them to think critically and biblically as they impact the world.