Defending Home Turf

UNH to host 2018 Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition

Monday, March 5, 2018
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UNH College of Engineering students

Senior members of the UNH Cyber Security Team Pirro Shtino (left) and Harrison Pham are two of 10 UNH students who will compete in the 2018 Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in Durham next week.

While many UNH students will venture far from campus during spring break, at least one group will remain — to defend their home turf.

The UNH Cyber Security team will stay behind to host the 2018 Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, March 16-18. They’ll compete against 10 teams from across the Northeast who will battle in cyberspace for the chance to earn a trip to the national competition in April.

“There is a sense of protecting our home turf,” says Harrison Pham, a senior studying computer science. “At least for me, it’s more of showing we're not going down without a fight."

Pham is competing for the third time as a member of the Wildcats. He says the team’s strength is its ability to function well as a unit during a competition that features an array of tasks and challenges in need of mitigation.

“We are good at the technical aspect, but I think our biggest strength is our team chemistry,” says Pham. “We know each other, so we can freely communicate with each other without worrying about stepping on anyone’s toes.”

“Students get an eye-opening experience as to what real cyberattacks look like. They also get to collaborate with local firms looking to hire scarce cybersecurity students.”

Pirro Shtino, a senior information technology major, agrees. He’s seen teamwork play a role in the team’s success.

“Historically, our team has never gone out and said that we play to win,” says Shtino. “Our goals lie in improving our interpersonal communication skills and creating more robust mitigation systems.”

Collaboration will be key. During the competition, teams will run digital forensics companies and manage 20 systems located in Kingsbury Hall that support cybersecurity services for customers and employees. Teams will be expected to respond to 40 requests from management as well as defend against active attackers.

During one exercise, teams will assemble at large round tables in a conference room to solve challenges faster than other teams in the room. And there will be hurdles — misinformation, distractions — the types of real-life obstacles cybersecurity experts face every day.

“There is an attack-and-defend aspect, so we expect teams will do some trash-talking,” says Kenneth Graf, the Wildcats’ advisor and a lecturer in computer science.

The 10 teams that will compete qualified from an original field of 36 schools. Besides UNH, the finalists include University at Albany (State University of New York), University at Buffalo (State University of New York), Champlain College, University of Maine, Northeastern University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology, United States Military Academy at West Point and Westchester Community College.

“Students get an eye-opening experience as to what real cyberattacks look like,” says Graf. “They also get to collaborate with local firms looking to hire scarce cybersecurity students.”

Last year, UNH finished fifth in the competition but led in the “service” category for most of the event. They finished second in 2012. Hosting this year’s event has provided the team with the unique opportunity to build out the competition’s infrastructure as well as secure future internships and employment.

“We are hoping that the competition helps draw students to UNH, that sponsors continue to hire competitors in the field and that our students learn new technologies and techniques that will help them be successful in their future careers,” says Graf.

Interested in cybersecurity? Check out related degree programs in the UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences


  • Written By

    Brooks Payette | College of Engineering and Physical Sciences