Cyber defense team places first, on their way to nationals

Frank Pryzbylkowski
Contributing Writer

Millersville University’s cyber defense team took first place at the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) at Johns Hopkins University from April 10 -13. This win will carry them into the national championship in San Antonio.
The final standings of the Mid-Atlantic CCDC were Millersville University in first place, North Carolina State University in second, and Radford University in third. Millersville’s cyber defense team will join the first place teams of the other nine regions in San Antonio to compete in the three-day National CCDC from April 19 – 21. Millersville’s cyber defense team members are all computer science majors; they are: Seniors: Travis Romero (Captain), Martin Zirkle, Andrew Elliot, Joshua Van Hine and Juniors: Dylan Leakway, Grant Blankenship, Ryan Butler, and Keat Ly.
The CCDC gives students of computer science a chance to show off their skills against a real-time cyberattack by industry professionals. Teams of eight students – know as “Blue Teams” – from each college competing are required to update and maintain their networks from attack by professional security testers – known as “Red Team.” According to the 2103 CCDC rulebook, scoring is based on keeping their services running, preventing un-authorized access by the Red Team and completing various business tasks or injects during the competition.

Starting from top row, left to right: Joshua Van Hine, Ryan Butler, Martin Zirkle, Andrew Elliot, Grant Blackenship, Travis Romero, Keat Ly, and Dylan Leakway make up the 2013 Cyber Defense team.
Starting from top row, left to right: Joshua Van Hine, Ryan Butler, Martin Zirkle, Andrew Elliot, Grant Blackenship, Travis Romero, Keat Ly, and Dylan Leakway make up the 2013 Cyber Defense team.

The CCDC simulation is based on real-world scenarios such as attacks on power grids or health care networks. This year the simulation was of an attack on an electronic voting system for a fake country “Hakistan” trying to hold its first “free” elections. Not only did the Blue Teams have to stop fraudulent voters; they also had to protect legitimate votes. The Red Team’s goal was to get the dictator “re-elected” into office while the Blue Team’s responsibility was to maintain the network thereby ensuring free and fair elections.
No team was able to stop the Red Team’s vicious cyberattacks and the free elections failed in Hakistan. “Students are going up against professional testers,” explained Travis Romero, team captain and senior, “They do it for a living.” Even though no team was successful, Millersville and North Carolina were tied for first until the inject scores were added. Injects are business tasks that the figure heads of the scenario give to teams randomly throughout the competition, such as updating a system or troubleshooting a problem not related to the election network security. In this situation Romero met with either the Chief Election Judge or an Army Colonel and he would convert – as he calls it – “technobabble” to lay-person’s speech to explain the situation to them. The team’s strategy of focusing on injects worked to their advantage in the end.
The CCDC is seen by many on Millersville’s team as a great resume and networking opportunity. Grant Blankenship, a junior member of the team said, “Employers want to see people with hands on training not just a degree.” The CCDC is sponsored by many big names in government and the corporate sector such as Department of Homeland Security, Boeing, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and many more; students got a chance to meet with these prospective employers at a job fair held before the competition.
Romero brags, “Everything we do is self-taught.” Unfortunately Millersville only has a couple of elective classes in network security, which are infrequently offered every other semester. In order to practice the cyber defense team has been meeting on weekends since January, but stepped it up to meeting three hours a day after passing the qualifiers on March 21.
Todd Echterling, the computer science system administrator and faculty advisor for the cyber defense team, helps the team to practice and prepare for the CCDC. He helps setup networks to practice on, gets them access to the resources they need to learn how to maintain their network’s security, and helps take care of other logistical matters like travel to the CCDC. “Todd was pretty emotional when we won,” recalls Keat Ly, a junior team member. Echterling has been with Millersville’s cyber defense team since its beginnings in 2006; in 2007 the last time the team went to nationals they placed second, said Romero.
“We have a dynamic team,” says Romero optimistically. The team is looking forward to the NCCDC and has been practicing nonstop the past week. Whenever they are not at class or work they are either studying on their own or meeting at the computer lab to practice. “Whatever happens will happen,” says Ly. “If we come in tenth then we’re tenth in the nation,” Blankenship adds. The team has prepared for nationals and goes hopeful to San Antonio. Stay tuned for the results of the NCCDC.

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