Information Trust Institute block of abstract images
Information Trust Institute block of abstract images

ICSSP students advance to regional cyber defense competition

Students in the Information Trust Institute’s Illinois Cyber Security Scholars Program are headed to the Midwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition later this month after placing second at the state competition in February.

Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition events (CCDC) provide opportunities for students to integrate and apply IT skills in an environment intended to mimic a commercial enterprise network. During the event, students simulate being hired as an IT professional for a company whose previous IT staff left the network in an unknown state. They work to secure the company’s network system while fighting off professional penetration testers who are attempting to break the network’s security. In addition to stopping hackers, the students also work on activities such as setting up security policies for the company or implementing new services.

According to the team’s technical coach and ITI Smart Grid Cyber Security Engineer Edmond Rogers, cyber competitions such as CCDC help the students get hands-on experience with many of the challenges presented in today’s complex computer networks.

ITI had eight ICSSP students compete in the state Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on Feb. 23. From left, senior Joel Van Der Woude, senior Aaron Phelps, senior Dennis McWherter, junior Anthony Louie, junior Gary Wang, junior Clayton Quinlan, senior Carlo Depaolis and senior Ross Wolf.
ITI had eight ICSSP students compete in the state Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on Feb. 23. From left, senior Joel Van Der Woude, senior Aaron Phelps, senior Dennis McWherter, junior Anthony Louie, junior Gary Wang, junior Clayton Quinlan, senior Carlo Depaolis and senior Ross Wolf.

The students were judged on their ability to respond and react to attacks on the system, whether their systems remained working during attacks and how well they fixed services that had been broken before they took over the network system, as well as other criteria.

“This is an important win for our team because this placement at the state level qualifies them to compete at the regional level and our students have not had this opportunity in the past,” said Dr. Masooda Bashir, director of the Illinois Cyber Security Scholars Program (ICSSP). “The regional level will expose our students to a higher level of cyber security challenges while competing against other successful winning teams from the Midwest region.”

Bashir also added that she’s proud of the team’s accomplishment because the ICSSP computer science and computer engineering curriculum is more theory based and therefore the students do not get much direct training in system administration.

“The team members had to work on their own initiative and learn independently to apply themselves in this manner,” Bashir said. “These types of competitions are a great exercise for the scholarship students to learn teamwork while preparing for the competition and then to perform as a team while competing in a stressful environment where effective communication and teamwork is a key to success.”

ICSSP is a scholarship program for undergraduate students to pursue degrees in information assurance and computer security, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Federal Cyber Service Scholarship for Service (SFS) program. ICSSP students have competed in the state CCDC competition during the last four years, but have never competed in the regional competition.

ICSSP students work diligently during the Illinois Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on February. The students took second place, which qualified them for the regional competition on March 22-23.
ICSSP students work diligently during the Illinois Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition on February. The students took second place, which qualified them for the regional competition on March 22-23.
“This competition has been useful in gaining exposure to real life scenarios in which cyber attacks are a reality and gaining valuable experience in reacting to these attacks,” said Joel Van Der Woude, a senior ICSSP student who is studying computer engineering with a focus in security. “I think we will all find it useful in better identifying and mitigating attack vectors, as well as creating methodologies for reacting to successful attacks.”

Along with Van Der Woude, the team was comprised of seniors Ross Wolf, Aaron Phelps, Ted Pacyga, Carlo Depaolis and Dennis McWherter and juniors Anthony Louie, Nicholas Ciaglia, Clayton Quinlan and Gary Wang.

State and regional CCDCs are qualifying events for the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which will be held in April. The Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance (CSSIA), whose main funder is NSF, organizes the Midwest Regional competition. According to CSSIA competition director David Durkee, the Midwest region has more qualifying events and more teams competing than any other region. Illinois’ ICSSP students participated in the Illinois state competition on February 23 and will go on to compete in the Midwest Regional CCDC on March 22-23.