While tournaments continue on the basketball court, another kind of regional competition’s going on this (Friday) evening through midday Saturday in Ames — a computer-security contest. Iowa State University students who held off attackers for 18 hours in the “Cyber-Defense Competition” last fall advanced to play the next round this week, though student Ben Blakely says it’ll look rather like a bunch of cubicles in somebody’s work office.

Teams will set up several monitors and each will have several members watching all the time for “attacks.” His team’s set up a central console where they’ll watch for activity on their network, like bad password attempts, attacks on the network or a virus. Four teams will go at it for eighteen hours straight, as another team of professionals tries to break in, hack their impromptu networks, and crack their security. This is their idea of fun, and Blakely says he’s liked computers for a long time.

When he was in high school and junior high, he was his school district’s network administrator, and even in grade school he’d help teachers out in the computer lab and the classroom. He adds it’s a similar story for the other people in the competition. Their teacher says having a passion like that is guaranteed to translate into a bright future when the members of the team graduate.

Doug Jacobson is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at I-S-U. “The employment opportunities are basically limitless for computer security,” Jacobson says. He says the job market’s only going to increase, and that’s something that’s not going to be outsourced. He invites anybody interested to come and watch them hack, crack, maintain their network and defend it against the sneakiest of cyber-attacks. Spectators may even get a hands-on role in the challenge.

Competition begins Friday at 6 P.M. and runs till about eleven Saturday morning. Spectators will get things to do, play on the network and make sure the students have it up and running for those “users.” The latest round in the Cyber Defense Competition takes place at the I-S-U research park south of Highway 30 in Ames. From the Elwood exit, signs will direct visitors to the right building and room.