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Students participate in national CyberForce competition

students group working at table

Boise State University students recently participated in CyberForce, a competition hosted by the United States Department of Energy at 10 national laboratories across the U.S. The Boise State team traveled to the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls to participate in the Nov. 15-16 competition, which is designed to prepare students to be leaders in cybersecurity, and give them greater access and opportunity to experience cyber education in a hands-on way.

Boise State was one of 104 teams that competed and despite being first-time participants, placed in the first half of teams at number 46.

The competition arranged student teams into separate groups with defined goals. For example, Boise State’s students comprised the “Blue Team” whose goal was to protect a cyber-physical system under certain scenarios of attack and distress.

Team lead Sean O’Toole, a senior computer science major with an emphasis in cybersecurity, explained the importance of cyber-physical systems to society today.

“It’s really difficult to overstate how much cyber, cyber-physical, and physical systems rely on each other, especially today. A hydro-electric dam, for example, generates its power via physical components, but the operation of the equipment is generally managed and monitored by a combination of cyber-physical monitoring and safety systems, which themselves communicated with and are managed by software purely in the cyber realm,” said O’Toole. “All three parts of the system need to exist for the dam to function effectively and safely, and each relies on the other for data, instructions, and in this case the power itself to run the devices. This same kind of codependent interplay is everywhere in our lives today.”

A list of the team participants include:

  • Sean O’Toole, senior in computer science
  • Casey Lewis, junior in computer science
  • Erik Corrington, senior in computer science
  • Josue Torres Fonseca, sophomore in computer science
  • Robert Martin, senior in electrical engineering
  • William Unger, doctoral student in computing
Group of students who participated

O’Toole cited the support from Boise State and devoted faculty as critical to the team’s ability to compete. When he originally brought up the idea of competing in CyberForce to computer science faculty Edoardo Serra, Sin Ming Loo and mathematics professor Liljana Babinkostova, O’Toole was delighted to find the faculty members excited to help with the competition and willing to go even further to prepare students.

“They not only agreed to support a competitive team and club, but try out an experimental class teaching the basics of cybersecurity with a focus on practical, real-world skills,” said O’Toole.

With the experience and knowledge acquired from this specialized class, many of the course’s graduates went on to become part of the competition team.

“Professor Loo in particular has been instrumental in pushing for and helping coalesce a team for CyberForce, as well as in laying the groundwork for the team to travel and compete. He’s been with us every step of the way, and I don’t think I or the rest of the team could thank him enough,” said O’Toole.

“Students met on Fridays for two months prior to the competition. They also used to prepare. They had so much fun at the competition. They also learned so much. Participation at this type of competition is a great thing to add to their resume prior to graduation,” said Loo.

To learn more about CyberForce, please visit:

-By Brianne Phillips