Students Sharpen Cybersecurity Skills to Meet Future Challenges, Career Opportunities

Friday, January 23, 2015
Cyberdefense team.

Meeting Cybersecurity Challenges: Experienced members of Rose-Hulman's Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition team are (from left) Dax Earl, Mason Schneider, Tyler Burns, and Aaron Gulliver. (Photo by Shawn Spence)

In real-world problem solving taken from today's news headlines, tech-savvy Rose-Hulman students are prepared to protect corporate network infrastructure and business information systems from cybersecurity threats.

These students are also blazing new trails in a field that's capturing the attention of corporations, medium- and small-sized businesses, and governmental agencies.

Through the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), a team of eight students will assume administrative and protective duties for an existing "commercial" network-typically a small company with 50 or more users, seven to 10 servers, and common Internet services such as a web server, mail server, and e-commerce site.

During the course of the eight-hour process, the network must successfully ward off external threats that all Internet-based services face. Students will match their defensive skills against professional "hackers" who are given the challenge to take each team's production systems offline and breach their security.

"I like the challenge to see how I stack up against computer security experts that are on top of their game," says Aaron Gulliver, a junior computer science student.

Senior electrical engineering major Tayler Burns adds, "It's an interesting challenge that you don't see every day."

"The competition is fun because it is a unique, high-stressed environment. There's no time for learning as you go. If you fail, your system is compromised and everybody loses," states Mason Schneider, a junior computer science student.

Dax Earl, another junior computer science student, joins the trio in being the only returning members from last year's Indiana CCDC championship team. Rose-Hulman has earned a regional and national reputation for producing students with expertise in cybersecurity, with the institute's team placing third in the national competition in 2013.

"Our programming experience helps us understand the complexities of computer networks and systems," says Earl, who spends many weekends developing innovative products at collegiate hackathon events. "People that are able to learn and solve problems quickly, are good under stress, and work together well to excel in the CCDC competitive environment. Basically, it was made for the Rose-Hulman student."

Rose-Hulman has expanded cybersecurity coursework within the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering. A computer security class is being taught this winter quarter by visiting professor Sid Stamm, PhD, an expert in Internet security and privacy.

"Cybersecurity is a relatively new and complex field," Stamm says. "There aren't many places where one can get specialized training in this area, but while a need for more-than-usual training to get into cybersecurity may deter people from pursuing a career there, the tallest hurdle may be the field's lack of praise for performance."

He continues, "Cybersecurity is a field that succeeds silently. If you do your job well, nothing goes wrong. On the other hand, if you make a mistake, your company could end up all over the news for getting exploited. In a way, the reward/incentive structure of the field is backwards."

Rose-Hulman graduates with cybersecurity skills are in great demand. Business cards from corporate recruiters quickly filled a basket at a CCDC team information booth at this fall's campus career fair. There are modest estimates of more than 209,000 jobs being unfilled in the career field across the U.S., and job postings in cybersecurity are up 74 percent over the past five years, according to media reports.

Burns, the CCDC team's lone senior, has accepted a postgraduate position at Raytheon.

"I like the real-world aspects of cybersecurity," he says. "It's no longer seen as a dead-end job that's alone in the back rooms of corporate America. It's now a necessity for companies working in a global environment."

The remaining four CCDC team members will be selected from a group of interested cybersecurity students which meet weekly in preparation for the state competition, being conducted in February. The champion will advance to the Midwest competition in March, and that regional winner will go onto National this spring.

Watch a video of Rose-Hulman's team winning a past Midwest regional competition.