Student ‘techies’ prove their worth in cyber security

A. Sue Weisler | photographer

Members of RIT’s student team competing in the Northeast Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

A good defense proved to be the best offense for a team of RIT students who “outsecured” and outscored five other universities from the Northeast to advance to the finals of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition next month in San Antonio.

RIT hosted student teams from Northeastern University, Polytechnic University, Syracuse University, Champlain College and Norwich University for the regional competition Feb. 29 through March 2.

Each student team member assumed the role of a network administrator in a mock information technology department of a small company. Throughout the three days, student teams had to maintain and protect computer networks from an outside team of attackers while carrying out everyday business tasks similar to day-to-day operations at a corporation.

“The first day of competition was very intense,” says Ron Valente, RIT fourth-year applied networking and systems administration major. “We only had an hour to lockdown our system and apply passwords to all our network devices. It’s quite stressful when someone is attacking your system, and not knowing where the threats are coming from.”

Much like real-life computer security threats, the student teams didn’t know their attackers. The attack team was comprised of experts in the computer security industry who work for corporations and the military.

“I think this competition is the closest to real life I have ever seen,” says David Wilson ’04 (B.S. information technology), PAETEC senior network security engineer. “The students were put into a stressful, challenging and fast-paced environment that required results. This is what we as professionals deal with on a daily basis.”

Simultaneously, another team made up of industry and RIT professors required each team to execute numerous business tasks such as setting up e-mail accounts, file-share accounts and Web sites.

“For example, we ran an e-commerce application, similar in principle to an site,” says Jason Koppe, RIT team captain and first-year master’s degree student in computer security and information assurance. “Customer security is paramount so we protected the Web site while adding new products and customers. It was difficult to make sure the business injects were being accomplished while maintaining the security of the data.”

Teams were scored on such criteria as keeping required services running, preventing unauthorized access and completing business tasks.

Representatives from Cisco, McAfee, PAETEC, Dox Electronics, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Symantec, Innovative Solutions, The Technology Company and Wegmans participated in the competition. The event sponsors were McAfee, Harris RF Communications and Cisco.

“It was an intense weekend, but a very good learning experience from both a teambuilding and technical perspective,” says Koppe. “We have some modifications to make as we get ready to go to nationals. We are excited.”

Northeastern University placed second and Norwich University took third. The national competition is April 18-20. 

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