Fresh off taking top honors at the 2020 Spokane Mayor’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition in February, 20 students from EWU’s Computer Science team recently matched wits with 3,000 participants at the National Cyber League (NCL)—and one Eagle made quite a splash!

Senior Alex Spichak placed in the top tier of the cyber security event, held online because of the coronavirus pandemic. Among categories that included cryptographic, scanning and password cracking, his specialty involved “web app security” (where you’re asked to access something you’re not supposed to) and “enumeration and exploitation” (where you get points for reading a program and generating an input that raises a flag). Complicated stuff, but the EWU student was up to the task.

“I registered with the goal of getting into the gold bracket (top 15 percent) and hopefully at least have my name up on the leader board,” says Spichak.

Mission accomplished. NCL is split up into three main games with nine different categories to test security skills. After a warm-up game called “Preseason,” Spichak finished 100 percent of the challenges in each category and tied for first place. This propelled him into the next big competition, known as the “Individual” game, where he placed fifth nationally. Most inspiring, Spichak‘s strong showing catapulted him into the sought-after gold bracket, where he also finished fifth overall—with only a “Team” game still remaining. But his high placement doesn’t figure to change.  

“I didn’t expect to end so high up,” says Spichak.

Spichak, second from left, after the Mayor’s Cup in February.

In reality Spichak never expected to even be involved in the cyber field. He credits a persistent professor, Stu Steiner, with piquing his interest.

“I wasn’t particularly interested in cyber security field before attending EWU, but I kept seeing all these announcements from Stu about the Cyber Security Club and various cyber security events.”

And now that he’s cracked the code of what he wants to do for a living, Spichak hopes to leave his mark at Eastern.

Fittingly, for his senior project Spichak is working on an EWU CSTEM Research Grant application website. His goal is to make the application and review process easier for students and their advisers.

Spichak credits his EWU experience for preparing him for the national competition.

“My classes at EWU really helped me solve the harder enumeration and exploitation challenges in particular,” he says. “I applied my knowledge of network protocols I learned in my Computer Networks class for the Network Traffic Analysis challenges.”