Next week, some of the world’s wiliest hackers will gather at UNH in an attempt to bring down powerful corporate networks.
But no one on campus is worried; in fact, the hackers are being welcomed. They’ll go up against student cyber defense teams from 10 universities in the seventh annual Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, hosted by UNH’s computer science department March 14 – 16, 2014.
The UNH Cyber Security Club Wildhats (a play on “black hats,” slang for hackers) will host teams from Alfred State College, Champlain College, Northeastern University, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), SUNY IT, Syracuse University, University of Maine, University of Massachusetts Boston, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).
“Hosting this year’s NECCDC is not only a big opportunity for us personally, but for the computer science department and our university as a whole. It proves that we are serious and invested in excelling in the area of cyber security,” says Wildhats team captain Greg Hilston ‘15. “It is an opportunity to exhibit our skills and talents as students, all while showcasing the lovely buildings, surroundings, and academic environment that make UNH what it is.”
Their hospitality will have its limits, however, says UNH Cyber Security Club president Adam Holmes ‘14: “We plan on winning!”
The event will open with keynote speaker Brigadier General Ronald M. Bouchard ’77, senior vice president at NCI Information Systems, a leading provider of IT and professional services to U.S. government agencies. He’ll discuss threats and attack trends, malware, common attack vectors, response strategies, and the federal government perspective. Bouchard’s talk, which is open to the public will be Friday, March 14, at noon in DeMerritt Hall, Room 112. Register now!
“Every year I am so impressed with how much the students learn about what it takes to secure real-world systems,” says coach and event organizer Ken Graf, an instructor in the computer science department. “The competition is keen and the attackers are world class. I am honored to be coordinating this competition for our future leaders, because the students are truly amazing.”
For the competition, each of the 10 teams runs a common set of systems typical to a small business: email, websites, VPN (virtual private network), remote access, and others. During the three-day event, as each team’s “CEO” makes requests to these ersatz IT departments, some of the world’s best hackers, from the U.S. military, government, and top security firms, try to attack the teams’ systems. The winner and one alternate from the competition go on to compete nationally in Texas in April.
The Wildhats team, which includes a math and a philosophy major in addition to computer science majors, has been planning for success since the end of the 2013 competition. The team meets twice weekly; individually, Holmes and Hilston say team members devote any free time to “training.”
And while their focus is technical – general systems administration topics and networking skills – they say the interpersonal skills of communication, organization, leadership, and teamwork are equally important.
“This isn’t a one-person show,” says Hilston. “In order to succeed we must all work together and contribute our own personal excellences in our own personal ways.”
Despite the many hours devoted to the team, Hilston and Holmes call the work fun and a terrific way to boost their classroom studies with real-world experience. And in addition to a great learning experience and potential bragging rights, many students leave the competition with something more tangibly valuable: job offers. Nearly all seniors who have participated in past years have parlayed their Cyber Defense Competition experience into enviable jobs.
Indeed, employers eager for the opportunity to connect with bright young minds in the increasingly relevant field of cyber security support the competition in part for the opportunity to recruit there. This year’s NECCDC lead sponsors are Akamai, Dell, Liberty Mutual, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; additional sponsors are EMC2, Microsoft, Cigital, Crowdstrike, and Spawar.
Along with Hiltson, a computer science major, and Holmes, a math major, the Wildhats are Michaela Tremblay ’14 (computer science), Charles Valenza ’16 (computer science), Gerald Rosati ’15 (electrical and computer engineering), Josh Thibeault ’14 (liberal arts) Tamir Blum ’15 (mechanical engineering), Christopher Chin ’16 (computer science), and Tyler Slabinski ’17 (computer science).