A team of students from the Center for Convergence and Emerging Network Technologies (CCENT) cyber security test bed at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) is advancing to the second phase of competition in the Northeast regional section of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

The team finished in third place in the qualifying round recently, and will head to the next level of competition against nine other schools in March. The winning team from the Northeast regional event will head to the national championship competition in San Antonio in late April.

Team members are all iSchool undergraduates except for graduate student Jose Bejar, a telecommunications and network management graduate student. Joining Bejar on the roster are: Matt Migliore; Bill Kajos; Rajah Goodrich; Christian Soto; Yicheng Shen; Brian Garber; Amber Evans; Kristopher Curtis; and returning for a second time, students Anthony Herbert and Alexander Rydzak.

This is the second year that the iSchool has entered the three-day cyber defense event.

Competition + Networking

The Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitionfocuses on the operational aspects of managing and protecting an existing “commercial” network infrastructure, letting students test their knowledge in an operational environment, while also giving them an opportunity to network with industry professionals.

Bahram Attaie, iSchool assistant professor of practice and the team’s advisor, said the competition is an interesting one for students. “A lot of security competitions, there’s hacking for the sake of hacking, or [various types of] security exercises. But CCDC is more from a professional perspective. The whole idea is you have a real-world network that you have to defend against the bad guys,” he said. This competition also presents a unique chance for students to interact with working professionals regarding the types of security and operational challenges the students soon will face upon entering the job market, he added.

The event’s structure, where each team faces realistic cyber security scenarios, provides the students with a situation where, “Your network has to be up, your server has to be up, and you have to maintain your system,” Attaie said, and “the students are really learning how to defend a real-world network system from a real-world security perspective.” The value for students is that such a situation helps them to be “truly seasoned to the point where they are professional grade, but they have a lot of fun doing it, too,” he added. 

Technical, Business Challenges

Graduate student team member Jose Bejar observed that the competition is not only a technical challenge, but a business challenge, as well. “Participants must respond to ‘manager’ requests while keeping hackers out of their network,” he noted, an element that mimics real-world situations. That is a sense of realism reflecting the workplace, too, since sometimes managers “end up requesting things that are either harmful for the network or almost impossible to accomplish,” Bejar added.

Jose said the nature of the event pushes him to try new things and “think as a hacker, and find all the vulnerabilities in your systems before they do. Otherwise, you will probably not last too long in the competition.”

Second-time team member Anthony Herbert said he “really enjoys the competitiveness and opportunities that CCDC presents to us. You get to experience a real-world situation while also being able to network with industry professionals and your peers from other schools.”

In the next round, the iSchool team faces groups from nine other schools: Rochester Institute of Technology; Northeastern; Alfred State; University of Massachusetts/Boston; SUNY Institute of Technology; Worcester Polytechnic; University of Maine; Champlain College and the University of New Hampshire.  Additional schools in the last round of competition included the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; University of Buffalo; Stevens Institute of Technology; Pace University; and University of Massachusetts/Lowell.