About 60 people participated in BSides SWVA, a competition and gathering that raises awareness of the cybersecurity industry talent in the region. The purpose of the event, held at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, was to bring industry leaders together with the region’s cybersecurity workforce.

Dan Orr, an instructor and cybersecurity program coordinator at UVA Wise, said bringing the event to Southwest Virginia makes sense because it means less travel for local residents. Participants from as far away as Blacksburg traveled to Wise to participate in the daylong event.

Shaun Bolling, an IT specialist for the architect and engineering firm Thompson + Litton, arrived early for the event. Bolling handles many aspects of the firm’s IT services and he was eager to learn more.

“I want to learn more about cybersecurity and I’m interested in networking with the others here today,” Bolling said. “I’m really interested in the Trust No One Data Protection sessions.”

The participants fired up their laptops and got to work on the friendly competition in the Capture the Flag event. CTFs are team-based cybersecurity challenges where participants attempt to breach the opposing team’s computer network while protecting their own network from attack. The challenges they faced were in a Jeopardy format with points awarded based on the difficulty of the problem.

Jacob Somervell, chair of the mathematics and computer science department at UVA Wise, said BSides SWVA means more exposure for the College, its students, faculty and its academic programs.

“It means getting our name out there and it helps us make connections,” he said. “The event brings the local talent together with industry partners in cybersecurity. It also means getting people in the field exposed to our College and our students.”

Somervell said UVA Wise is close to launching a concentration in cybersecurity, and the BSides event will help support those efforts.

“The major thing is the connections made between education and the industry,” he added. “The buzz creates an interest.”

Organizers believe BSides will keep the region’s cybersecurity workforce strong as more information technology-based companies expand in the area in the future.