Student Teams Preparing for Cybersecurity Competition Challenges

Wednesday, March 02, 2016
Cyber Defenders Team

Problem Solvers: Working together to solve cybersecurity issues are students (from left) Adam Seitz, Dylan Vener, Paul Earhart, and Ryan Coffman. The team placed 24th - out of 50 finalists - in the preliminary round of Microsoft's Build the Shield cybersecurity competition.

Top skills in cybersecurity have landed several Rose-Hulman computer science, software engineering, and computer engineering students in the final round of Microsoft's prestigious Build the Shield competition later this month in Redmond, Washington.

Two student teams from the institute's Computer Security Club are among 50 finalists competing in the high-pressure challenge. This hands-on hacking experience, coupled with real-life scenarios, will have students defending a virtual network from the cyber-attacks of other teams.

A qualifying round was conducted January 16-17 online. Three Rose-Hulman groups originally undertook the challenge, and two teams placed in the top 25 against other university squads, several of them with graduate-level students from institutions with advanced cybersecurity research programs.

"Our students did an outstanding job working together to hack their way to the national finals. This result not only showcases the students' unusual skills, but Rose-Hulman's expanding cybersecurity academic program," says Associate Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering Sid Stamm, who specializes in computer and web application security issues.

Microsoft's Build the Shield competition is designed as an educational exercise to give participants experience in securing a machine, as well as conducting and reacting to the attacks found in the real world. Reverse-engineering, network sniffing, protocol analysis, system administration, programming, and cryptanalysis are all skills necessary to be successful.

"It's a lot of fun," says Adam Seitz, a first-year computer engineering student. "There are problems that most people would say are impossible to solve. We look at things differently. Every problem has an answer and we're going to work together to find that correct solution."

That mission can sometimes take up to six hours, or more. That's part of the fun, according to the students.

"There's something fascinating about delving into the great unknown," adds Dylan Vener, a first-year computer science student.

Cyber Defenders Golliver And Efron

Getting Ready For Nationals: Aaron Golliver and Benjamin Efron use a recent Computer Security Club meeting to prepare for the national round of Microsoft's Build the Shield competition. The duo joined with Ishank Tandon to place 25th in the preliminary campus round.

Seitz and Vener joined first-year computer engineering student Paul Earhart and second-year computer science major Ryan Coffman on the team that placed 24th in the preliminary round - a remarkable result for a team consisting of primarily first-year collegians.

"At the core of these cybersecurity challenges is the ability and strong work ethic to roll up your sleeves and uncover how to fix things," says Earhart. "This campus is filled with keen problem-solvers who like to take things apart and put them back together again. Those skills come in very handy in the cybersecurity area."

The team of senior computer science student Aaron Golliver and junior computer science majors Benjamin Efron and Ishank Tandon placed 25th in the first round of the Build the Shield challenge.

"Cybersecurity is what I want to do, so I didn't need much convincing to join in this competition," says Tandon, who is an active competitor in collegiate hackathon competitions. "We're really not sure what we're going to encounter at the national competition, but we know it's going to be fun and interesting. We can't wait."

The students' interest in cybersecurity has caught the attention of national companies. Seitz and Earhart will be spending this summer and fall in internships at Rockwell Collins. Coffman also has an internship lined up for the summer, while Tandon is seeking to study computer network security issues in graduate school.

"Computer security is a career area with endless possibilities," says Stamm.