Southeast Cybersecurity Students Repeat as State Champions

Cybersecurity_3CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Feb. 26, 2014 – Cybersecurity students at Southeast Missouri State University took first place for the second straight year in the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition Feb. 22.

The team now advances to the 2014 Midwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) March 28-29 at Moraine Valley Community College in Chicago.

The winner of the Midwest Regional CCDC will compete at the 2014 National CCDC April 25-27 in San Antonio, Texas.

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.

Southeast team members included Jeremy Wiedner of Imperial, Mo., Blynn Atchley of Malden, Mo., Charles Harner of Joppa, Ill., Melanie Thiemann of Wentzville, Mo., Nick Howe of Malden, Mo., Jake Schnurbusch of Jackson, Mo., Travis Holland of Dexter, Mo., and George Papulis of Ballwin, Mo.

“I was extremely excited to see our team prevail in the competition. I’m confident our team will do just as well at regionals and, hopefully, move on to the national CCDC in San Antonio, Texas,” said Atchley, who is majoring in cybersecurity and is vice president of the Cyber Defense Club.

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.

It was held in a remote “cyberstadium,” and students logged into the cyberstadium from the cybersecurity laboratory at Southeast to participate in the competition, according to Dr. Vijay Anand, faculty advisor and team mentor. He teaches many of the courses in the University’s cybersecurity program.

“Even though we have prepared a lot, the uncertainty of the competition play makes it stressful,” Anand said. “We are the only team that does not have a graduate student since we don’t have a graduate program in the area of cybersecurity. Of course, I was elated when my team won the competition. My team and I celebrated the win the next day. It also means that we have to work harder until the regionals and all team members are aware of this.”

Jeremy Wiedner is a senior majoring in cybersecurity and president of the Cyber Defense Club. He maintained the servers and the services they were running. While fending off attacks by the Red Team, who were the professional hackers, he also had to complete administrative tasks such as setting up new services.

“One time the Red Team got into one of my computers and I had a conversation with them. I took some screen shots,” Wiedner said.

“It was fun, very stressful, frustrating, infuriating and satisfying all at the same time. It is a very intense competition that is stacked against the students and in favor of the ‘bad guys.’ It also tests the team’s ability to work together because we are all very stressed and have so much to do. It is very frustrating to see some of our services go down, but it is also very rewarding to get them back up,” Weidner said.

Atchley was one of two liaisons for the CCDC, an administrative position where he assisted other team members and kept reports on cyber attacks.

“The competition was a high adrenaline, high stressful environment but fun when working with all of your friends and classmates. Just to see the nice green service board of all of our services working properly to turn all red at once can really freak you out, but through perseverance, we usually were able to get some of our services back up and running,” Atchley said.

To prepare, the students practiced over the last year as well as winter break. They examined different attacks they might encounter during the competition, working at the cybersecurity research lab at the Otto and Della Seabaugh Polytechnic Building.

“We typically identify strategies to apply during competition that mimic the real world. Different operating systems – variants of Linux, Windows, etc., are installed on equipment to experiment with in a variety of network topologies. Once the National Resource Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA) allows us to practice on the cyberstadium, typically four weeks prior to the competition, students prepare within the cyberstadium constraints. This year we are very thankful to get some useful tips from engineers from PricewaterhouseCoopers,” Anand said.

Last year was the first year that Missouri had teams to compete in the CCDC, and students from the University participated in it. Anand was named the Missouri State CCDC Director as well.

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 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 cybersecurity program at Southeast 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 about100 students majoring in cybersecurity at Southeast. The University is the first program in Missouri to offer its graduates a Bachelor of Science with a modifier of cybersecurity.

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