For eight grueling hours, Utah State University undergraduate Seth Manesse single-handedly defended a wind farm corporation from relentless cyberattacks, while restoring critical computer systems and ensuring the firm’s customers experienced no service interruptions.
“It was taxing, but fun,” says the computer science major of the competitive simulation hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy for undergraduate and graduate students from universities throughout the nation. Manesse placed first in the agency’s First Individual CyberForce Competition, held virtually Nov. 14, 2020, which drew on his diverse skills in analyzing and quickly responding to multiple security threats.
“This is an incredible achievement,” says Manesse’s faculty mentor Chad Mano, professional practice assistant professor in USU’s Department of Computer Science. “Seth competed with scholars from the nation’s top cybersecurity programs and excelled in all categories, tackling both defensive and offensive challenges in a realistic cyberattack scenario.”
The competition also included pre-scenario meetings with the fictitious corporation’s management, during which Manesse presented cybersecurity plan and recommendations.
“Each competitor was given access to the wind farm’s computer system a couple of weeks before the competition and asked to prepare reports and present them to the wind farm’s executive leadership,” says the Spanish Fork, Utah native, who graduated from the online Mountain Heights Academy in 2014.
The endeavor involved explaining highly technical ideas and strategies to a non-technical audience.
“It was challenging, as I’m very technical,” Manesse says. “But it was a valuable exercise in looking at the bottom line and explaining why cybersecurity is a wise investment. I’m glad this was part of the competition, because it was a good learning experience.”
This year’s contest was the DOE’s first individual competition, but not the first CyberForce gathering. Since 2016, the agency has conducted CyberForce as a team competition. This year’s virtual, individual competition was prompted by pandemic constraints.
“I competed with the USU team in 2019, where we vied with more than 100 universities across the nation at regional gatherings held at national labs,” Manesse says. “Our team placed third in the regional competition at Idaho National Laboratory.”
The graduating senior says he is grateful to faculty mentors Erik Falor and Ryan Beckstead, who introduced the Aggies to the competition and coached the team.
“It was a great experience, we learned a lot and had the opportunity to network with professionals,” Manesse says.
The undergrad, who entered USU on a Presidential Scholarship and helped to found USU’s student chapter of the Association of Information Systems, says a cybersecurity-focused independent study he undertook with Mano, also gave him an edge in the competition, as well as employment with USU Information Technology.
“My supervisor Matt Lorimer, a systems administrator, has been a valuable mentor and has taught me a great deal about computer security in general.”
As the first place awardee in the CyberForce competition, Manesse receives access to a SANS Institute cybersecurity certification course. Following graduation at the end of this semester, he plans to pursue further certification and has accepted a position with Lucid Software. Manesse completed a summer internship with the South Jordan, Utah-based workforce collaboration software development company.
“I’m grateful for my USU experiences,” says Manesse, who plays the piano and viola and enjoys rock climbing. “I’ve loved living in Cache Valley.”
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