Cybersecurity Students Win State Competition

by News Bureau on Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 20, 2013 — The Cyber Defense Club at Southeast Missouri State University took first place in the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition March 16.

The team now advances to the 2013 Midwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) March 22-23 at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Ill. In addition to Southeast, teams in the regional competition will represent Baldwin Wallace University, Century College, Davenport University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Northern Kentucky University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Eight Southeast freshmen through seniors majoring in cybersecurity participated in the all-day virtual state competition during which various college teams connected to a common computer system from their respective remote locations.

During the competition, the tech-savvy students built and defended their mock production business infrastructure from professional “hackers” who were given the challenge to take each team’s production systems offline and breach their security. While the team worked to fend off “hackers,” the competition judging staff deployed network enhancement and upgrade challenges to teams, judging their performance and scoring them.

Southeast team members included Jeremy Wiedner of Imperial, Mo., Travis Holland of Dexter, Mo., Jake Schnurbusch of Jackson, Mo., Battle Tomasetti of Ballwin, Mo., R. D. Niroshan Lakmal Rajapakse of Sri Lanka, Melanie Thiemann of Wentzville, Mo., Charity Meyer of Harrisonville, Mo., and Blynn Atchley of Malden, Mo.

Faculty advisor for the club and team mentor is Dr. Vijay Anand. He teaches many of the courses in Southeast’s cybersecurity program.

“They (the students) are motivated, and it’s a joy to guide them,” Anand said.

“I think the students did great” considering they only decided to compete and have been preparing since December, he added. “Other universities had graduate students on their teams and, in that context, our undergraduate students did really well. I am hoping they will do well in the regionals where they will be pitted against past winners of the CCDC national competition.”

In addition to leading his team to a first place state finish, Anand was selected to lead the Missouri CCDC next year.

“Dr. Anand has done a lot of work putting our cybersecurity program together,” said Dr. Brad Deken, chair of Southeast’s Department of Industrial and Engineering Technology. “Not only does he have a lot of industrial experience on his own, but he also sought out many other professionals across the country to help develop this program. Obviously he has done a great job at this. The results of this competition show how well he is preparing these students. He has become a leading expert in cybersecurity for the state and his nomination to the Missouri CCDC reflects this.”

Dr. Ron Rosati, Southeast provost, congratulated the team on its state victory and on its first attempt at this competition.

“I understand we came through the weekend as the state champions, beating strong teams such as the team from Rolla (Mo.),” he said. “This is a great activity. This is a fun way to validate the quality of the education Southeast is providing.”

The winner of the Midwest Regional CCDC will compete at the 2013 National CCDC April 19-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

CCDCs allow students to get security experience beyond the confines of a classroom. Students can apply concepts learned in the cybersecurity classes to a real world situation of protecting digital assets from adversaries, Anand says.

Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitions are structured contests that allow college students to gain significant experience towards operational competency in managing the challenges inherent to protecting and configuring an enterprise network infrastructure and business information system. CCDC events provide opportunity for students to integrate and apply Information Technology skills in an environment intended to simulate a commercial enterprise network. During the competition students are expected to assume administrative and protective duties, follow directives from competition management while under the duress of malicious activity.

These competitions focus on the operational aspect of managing and protecting an existing “commercial” network infrastructure. Students get a chance to test their knowledge in an operational environment, while also networking with industry professionals seeking up and coming engineers. The Midwest CCDC provided a unique opportunity for students and industry professionals to interact and discuss many of the security and operational challenges the students will soon face as they enter the job market. The CCDC competition tests each team’s ability to operate, secure, manage, and maintain a corporate network. This competition is the first to create, as closely as possible, a realistic corporate administration and security experience – giving the competitors a chance to compare their education and training against their peers and the real world challenges awaiting them. The Midwest Regional CCDC is managed by the National Resource Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA).

The Cyber Defense Club is a student organization at Southeast. The club is open to all majors with an interest in cybersecurity and currently has members from both cybersecurity and computer science. The group was launched to connect students to companies and professionals in the field of cyber defense. A second goal is to provide students with experiential learning opportunities, such as this competition.

The Missouri State Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition was started this year because of growing interest in cybersecurity within the region. In addition to the team from Southeast, teams from the Missouri University of Science and Technology at Rolla, Mo., and teams from Iowa and Wisconsin participated. The goal for these teams is to make it to the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC), which is the championship event for this and the largest college-level cyber defense competition in the United States.

The cybersecurity program at Southeast Missouri State University began in fall 2011 and is designed to educate students in the existing and emerging challenges in the security and privacy of the cyber infrastructure. There are currently 65 students majoring in cybersecurity at Southeast.

The U.S. Department of Labor expects 22 percent growth in jobs within this field over the next decade.

“In fact, many companies are already recruiting our cybersecurity students for internships and full-time positions,” Anand says.

Those interested in the cybersecurity program at Southeast, the Cyber Defense Club or the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition are asked to contact Anand at vanand@semo.edu.