Becoming a member of the US Cyber Team is no easy task. In 2023, only 17 of the more than 1,200 people who competed in the US Cyber Open Capture the Flag (CTF) competition were ultimately sent to represent the USA at the International Cybersecurity Challenge (ICC) in San Diego, California. One of those was Will Green, a bachelor's degree graduate of the SANS Technology Institute with a deep love for both cybersecurity and CTF competitions. Here he talks about how he preps for competitions, why he picked SANS.edu, and what's next for him.
Q. How did you get interested in cybersecurity?
I grew up playing computer games which led to my interest in understanding how to build computers, networking, and programming. In high school, I had one class period every year called "Tech Aide" where I was essentially the helpdesk for my school and could tinker with anything tech related. So I would work on little scripts and projects until a teacher was having an issue with something and then I would go help fix it. Having a classroom full of your peers stare at you while you try to get something to work is a great way to become fast at troubleshooting issues.
During the summer I got paid to help the IT Coordinator with anything IT related such as revamping the computer lab, installing access points and firewalls, etc. He became a great mentor to me and suggested I participate in the Air Force Association's CyberPatriot program which I participated in every year in high school and ultimately solidified my interest in cybersecurity.
Q. What was your educational background prior to joining SANS.edu?
A. Before transferring to the SANS.edu bachelor's program, I was previously enrolled at a 4-year university majoring in cybersecurity engineering. I completed all of my general education requirements and took some major classes such as digital logic design, computer programming, and computer organization.
Q. How did you learn about SANS.edu and why did you decide to enroll?
A. I was already familiar with the great reputation of SANS courses and GIAC certifications so I believe I stumbled across SANS.edu just by browsing the SANS.org site one day.
My decision to enroll was a mix of not enjoying the program I was in at the time, personal reasons that required me to have a flexible schedule, and the reputation of SANS. Additionally, the SANS.edu Income Share Agreement (ISA) allowed me to finish my degree without having to worry about tuition while I was taking courses which relieved a lot of stress from myself and my family.
Q. How did you become a member of the US Cyber Games Season II team?
A. I competed against over 1,200 competitors in the US Cyber Open Capture the Flag (CTF) competition and placed high enough to be one of the 85 people to be invited to train and compete in the US Cyber Combine.
The US Cyber Combine is an 8-week virtual camp consisting of training, challenges, evaluations, and an interview with a US Cyber Team coach/mentor.
After the Combine, 30 people were selected for the official US Cyber Team to represent the USA at various global scrimmages. Of the 30, 17 were sent to represent the USA at the International Cybersecurity Challenge (ICC) in San Diego, California.
Q. In the lead up to the big event, how did you prepare to participate in this year's International Cybersecurity Championship?
A. Our team held a few internal scrimmages and training events, both in-person and virtual, where we were primarily focused on team building and improving our Attack and Defense competition skillsets. We also competed in many international CTF competitions and a few international Attack and Defense competitions.
Q. Tell us about your experience on the US Cyber Games team. What was your role and responsibilities on the team? What surprised you about the experience?
On the US Cyber Team we are split into different teams that correlate to the common CTF categories: cryptography, binary exploitation, web exploitation, reverse engineering, and forensics. I was selected for the web exploitation team, so every weekend my team would hold a meeting where we would take turns explaining a certain web exploitation technique, or showcase an interesting CTF challenge.
I was surprised at just how skilled some of my teammates are. Everyone is wicked smart.
Q. Do you have any advice for people who are considering participating in a major CTF event like the International Cybersecurity Championship?
A. Cybersecurity competitions take hundreds of hours to become good at. Surround yourself with people who are just as passionate and skilled as you are, or hope to be, and devote your time to staying up to date on the latest techniques.
Q. What was it like to be a member of the SANS.edu Sentinels team that earned second place out of more than 1,000 participating teams at the fall 2023 National Cyber League competition?
A. I'm incredibly proud of my team's commitment to the grueling 56-hour NCL team competition. Our diverse skill sets, paired with the strategy of former top-ranking NCL teams at SANS and the best training in cybersecurity at SANS.edu, all contributed to our success this season.
Q. What advice would you offer someone considering applying to the SANS Technology Institute?
A. I would recommend doing your own research about SANS Technology Institute to ensure the program you're interested in matches with your own goals. Read the SANS.edu website, attend an info session, and talk to people who are in or finished with the program. Now that I'm finished with my bachelor's degree, I plan on enrolling in a graduate certificate program at SANS in the future with the two scholarships I received from competing in the National Cyber League (NCL) so I can begin working on my master's degree.
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