Cyber Defense Team Makes Impressive Debut at National Competition

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In only its second year, Rose-Hulman's Cyber Defense Team impressed computer security professionals with a third-place finish in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) on April 19-21 at San Antonio, Texas. Two team members also earned individual recognition for their performances.

Cyber Security Defense Team
National Contenders: Rose-Hulman's Cyber Defense Team that placed third at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition includes (front row, from left) Ryne Bell, Sean Richardson, Team Advisor Nadine Shillingford Wondem, Cameron Spry, and Mark Wlodarski,. In the back row (from left) are Matt Fuson, Robert Fendricks and Neil Semmel. Richardson and Spry were most valuable player award winners. (Photo by Chris Minnick)

Modeled from real-world scenarios and obstacles, the NCCDC is the first cyber security competition designed to test how well students operate and manage a network infrastructure similar to the networks found in the commercial sector.

At the start of the national championship, each eight-person team inherited an "operational" network for a fictional correctional institute complete with prisoner commissary for retail e-commerce, personnel records, and jail management software. Competitors were given minimal information about the network, its security levels, and its software. Minutes later, a team of cyber security professionals began to actively scan and probe the team's networks in an effort to break into and disrupt each team's operations. Meanwhile, another team of fictional employees, clients, and customers contributed new stress to the teams as they struggled to maintain services.

Over the course of the three-day competition, the teams were required to keep up with the operational needs of their jail and their user demands, while maintaining service level agreements for all of their critical Internet services. When they successfully completed business tasks and maintained services, they earned points. Violations of service level agreements or successful penetration of their network by the professional intruders resulted in lost points.

Rochester Institute of Technology took home the coveted Alamo Cup as NCCDC champions, with Dakota State University (South Dakota) placing second. Team members from both of these schools are working on bachelor's degrees in computer security, unlike Rose-Hulman students who are studying computer science.

"Our team's performance was consistent and was among the top three for the entire competition," says team advisor Nadine Shillingford Wondem, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering.

Team leaders Sean Richardson, a senior computer engineering major, and Cameron Spry, a junior computer science student, earned most valuable player awards for their performances at the competition. Both are planning careers in cyber security.

"As a first time attendee to the NCCDC, I was as impressed with the quality of the event as I was with the talent level of the competitors," states Jerry Geisler, senior director of Walmart Security and Compliance, in a NCCDC news release. He added, "The competitors were exceptional and represented their schools very well. It was a privilege to participate in this year's NCCDC event and observe the bright minds of these young security practitioners as they competed in these real-life scenarios."

Other team members were seniors Matt Fuson, Parker Schmidt, and Mark Wlodarski; juniors Ryne Bell and Robert Fendricks, and sophomore Neil Semmel. Learn more about the cyber security team, winners of the Midwest and Indiana competitions here.

"We have already begun the process of evaluating our strengths and weaknesses in preparation for next year's competitions. We hope to represent Rose-Hulman again on the national level," says Shillingford Wondem.

Other regional winners competing in this year's national championship were University of Washington, United States Air Force Academy, Oklahoma State University, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, University of Central Florida, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, and Millersville University (Pa.).

NCCDC sponsors recognizing the importance of supporting this type of educational competition included the Department of Homeland Security, Splunk, Walmart, Boeing, Deloitte, McAfee, Goldman Sachs, BlackBerry, Microsoft, and Symantec.