NKU Computer Security Team Captures Second at Regional Cyber Defense Competition | Schools
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, KY (FOX19) - In its third trip to the annual Southeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (SECCDC) last week, a team from Northern Kentucky University pulled out a second-place finish among 10 teams in the southeast region. This follows on the heels of NKU's third-place finish last year and fourth-place finish the year before.
The SECCDC is an intense three-day event that throws teams of eight students into a high-pressure “cyber attack” environment. Teams are given eight hours to harden a medium-sized corporate network against attack, then 12 hours to complete a set of business tasks in the face of hacking attacks, hardware failures and other deliberate disruptions.
The event was held at Kennesaw State University, near Atlanta, Ga. Admission of a team is selective, open only to universities with established computer security programs.
NKU’s team was comprised of undergraduates Scott Ledonne, Justin Morgan, Michael Saylor, Justin Shelton, Logan Smith and Clayton Woodrich along with graduate students Joe Harless and Sri Vasireddy. They are all students in the computer information technology and computer science programs in the NKU College of Informatics.
Computer science faculty members Yi Hu and Hetal Jasani coached the team, and Dr. Hu accompanied the students on the trip, which coincided with NKU’s Spring Break.
“The competition really lets you experience the stress and excitement of maintaining a company’s infrastructure while being attacked by hackers from the outside world,” said Shelton, a junior studying computer science. “Nothing you can learn in class or at your co-op can prepare you for that intensity.”
The team agreed that cooperation under pressure was crucial to their success. “The stressful environment of the competition brought our group together,” said Harless. “It was interesting to see our diverse backgrounds come together into a cohesive group and to watch each of us gravitate to areas of need and areas of expertise.”
Beginning in January, the team spent Fridays in intensive hands-on training sessions combined with four-hour simulations and drills. Dr. Hu and Dr. Jasani were assisted by team alums Jeremy Good and Michael Sweikata, who now work in NKU’s information technology department. They took over the network lab and adjacent advising lounge in NKU’s Applied Science and Technology building to replicate the competition environment. The training culminated on the Friday before Spring Break with a grueling eight-hour session in which the team, fueled by pizza and energy drinks, protected their network from especially devious and malicious “red team” hacking attacks perpetrated by NKU computer science professor James Walden.
The team’s trip to the competition was sponsored by NKU’s Center for Applied Informatics (CAI). The CAI has organized a number of regional events dealing with computer security and has brought attention to the increasing importance of this area.
Computer security is one of the research strengths of the NKU’s computer science department. The network/security track in the computer information technology major is NKU’s most popular technical degree, with over 200 enrolled students. The computer science and computer information technology majors combined enroll over 500 undergraduates, a figure that has increased 40 percent over the past two years.
At a welcome home party on Monday, the team members stated their intent to create a White Hat Hacking Club at NKU as a way to prepare the team for next year. The club will also enhance the experience of their classmates by bringing more real world “hacking” projects into NKU classes.
“White hat hackers,” also known as “ethical hackers,” are hired by organizations to penetrate their networks to test for vulnerabilities. The importance of this area is attested by the popularity of the Certified Ethical Hacker certificate, which is provided by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants.
On Wednesday, NKU President James Votruba noted during a meeting of the school’s Board of Regents that the digitorium located within NKU’s state-of-the-art $52 million Griffin Hall informatics center will be an ideal environment for hosting such a cyber defense competition. Griffin Hall is set to open this summer. The NKU Computer Science Department also intends to host a variety of network capture-the-flag competitions, which involve cyber offense as well as defense.