At first, computer science and cyber security senior Kate Sharp was not sure whether the cyber path was hers to take. “I took a programming class in high school,” she said, “and my dad suggested that I pick up a minor in cyber security as it was a ‘lucrative industry.’ Beyond that, I didn’t really have a plan.” However, TU’s Activities Fair soon changed that.
“I was lurking around the cyber security table when one of the girls who was a senior at the time enthusiastically asked me ‘Do you want to hack computers?’ and from there I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Since that day, Sharp has been anything but idle, fully devoting her time to all things cyber. She has co-captained the Collegiate Penetration Testing Team (CPTC) and the Collegiate Cyber Defense Team (CCDC) for the past two years, served as vice president of Women in Cyber Security and helped establish Root66Tulsa Cyber Clubs in 2021. If that wasn’t enough, Sharp worked in the Security Operations Center (SOC) and attended a variety of student organization activities on campus.
Cyber security Renaissance woman
CPTC is TU Cyber Security’s competitive hacking team that travels to Tennessee Tech every fall to compete in the central regional competition. If the team advances, they get to travel to Rochester Institute of Technology for the Global Finals competition.
The competition mimics a penetration testing engagement like you would see consulting companies do in real life. “I’ve been involved with this team for four years and have co-captained it with another awesome student, Declan Oberzan, since 2021,” Sharp said. “There are some fun themes they pick each year, but the best part is spending time together as a team. Road trips, flights and late-night report-writing sessions are some of my favorite memories.”
CCDC is TU’s cyber defense team that competes at the Southwest regional hosted at TU each spring. Sharp has been involved with CCDC for three years and has co-captained it with Oberzan for the past two.
“The event can best be described as two months of IT work shoved into one weekend,” Sharp said, adding that the teams replace entire IT departments and are tasked with fixing a network while live industry hackers – “red teamers,” as Sharp describes them – are actively attacking. “It’s intense at times, but it’s extremely fun.”
As for Women in Cyber Security, Sharp described it as a group that is part of a global network of industry professionals and students with a goal of supporting and encouraging more women to join the cyber security field. “I’ve served as vice president for the past couple of years under our president, Samantha Phillips.”
With the help of their executive team, Women in Cyber Security hosts technical and networking events for all students. “Right now, our primary community outreach initiative has been working with the Girl Scouts of Northeastern Oklahoma to host cyber security badge workshops each semester,” Sharp said. The group covers a variety of topics during these sessions, such as ethics, cryptography and coding. “It is definitely a rewarding experience.”
Root66Tulsa is the home for all cyber groups, clubs and teams at TU, including Capture the Flag, NCAE Cyber Games and Hivestorm. Sharp claimed that she and her peers felt like centralization was needed when the department was created in 2021. Since then, they have been working to build the organization from the ground up.
“Its primary function is to serve as a community hub for everyone interested in cyber studies, regardless of their major, and to keep everyone informed about opportunities that may arise,” Sharp explained. “It’s a wonderful support system.”
Sharp was one of the original five student employees hired to work in the SOC – a division of TU’s IT Security Department responsible for monitoring the network, responding to incidents and researching security solutions for the university. It is mostly staffed by TU students and managed by TU’s chief information security officer, Nathan Singleton.
Through her position, Sharp has learned about topics such as physical penetration testing – bypassing doors and picking locks – and other projects too cool to disclose. “I’ve learned a lot about how the security team monitors a network the size of TU’s and the software that comes with that,” she said. Because of the size of the university, Sharp is getting incredible practice and experience. “TU has thousands of devices on its network,” she said. “It’s a difficult environment to emulate.”
Meet the mentors
For every club or organization Sharp was involved in, there was a mentor, professor, friend or family member cheering for her. First and foremost, however, Sharp maintained that she would not be where she is without her faith in Jesus Christ. “I firmly believe that I am where he wants me to be and that I have been put in this position for his purpose,” she said.
Sharp could not imagine the School of Cyber Studies being the prize that it is without the leadership of Tandy Professor of Cyber Security Tyler Moore. “He has always been one of our biggest cheerleaders,” she said. Sharp also mentioned Associate Professor of Cyber Studies Sal Aurigemma as one of her best mentors. “He coached our competitive teams during my early years at TU and continues to be a huge supporter of everything we do.” Aurigemma, Sharp said, does not realize just how much he has impacted the students in his orbit.
Director of Co-Curricular Activities and Instructor of Cyber Studies Codi West has been the most impactful in Sharp’s final years at TU. West has spent countless hours helping his students practice, setting up equipment, making travel arrangements, driving or flying to competitions and more all while managing his normal classes. “I don’t think myself or the teams could have accomplished what we have without him,” she said. “Like Sal, I’m not sure he realizes how much he’s impacted myself and others in such a short amount of time, but he deserves so much recognition for everything he has done and continues to do.”
X-Force Red’s Rising Star
After commencement, Sharp will take her expertise to Austin, Texas, where she has been hired as a penetration tester at IBM’s X-Force Red. She was such a stellar intern last summer with the company that they offered her a job as a result.
In her position, Sharp will be ethically hacking clients and writing reports based on what she finds in their networks and websites. “The people I met at XFR are amazingly talented, and I am so excited to be going back,” Sharp exclaimed.
Want to be a part of a growing and successful cyber community? Consider checking out the School of Cyber Studies at The University of Tulsa today!