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RIT students compete in cyber defense contest

The RIT team is made up of, front row, from left: Neil Zimmerman, Christopher Bower, Jeremy Pollard and Corey Sinay; back row, from left: Lucas Duffey, Griffith Chaffee, coach Bo Yuan, Brandon Myers and Cory Baker. Courtesy RIT

As participants in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in San Antonio last weekend, a group of Rochester Institute of Technology students found out what it’s like to be a network or security administrator in control of a company’s information system with the responsibility of managing and protecting an existing network structure.

The students from RIT’s Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences and other departments will likely face that challenge when they graduate, but for the past few months they did it as a team competing against other colleges in a regional and national competition.

After winning the Northeast regional for the third time in five years in March, the RIT team won the right to compete in the 7th NCCDC competition in San Antonio against nine other colleges from around the country. The eight-member team with two alternates became the Information Technology Department of a small mock company called “Go Mommy” in this year’s competition, and assumed administrative responsibility for all information systems within the network of the company.

“It’s a very realistic simulation of a real world situation,” said RIT’s Coach, Bo Yuan, an associate professor in the Department of Networking Security and Systems Administration.

Students signed up to participate in November and the most qualified team members were selected by peer review from approximately 30 applicants. 

During the competition, professors from participating schools break into computer networks to attack or exploit information from the mock company, and the student team members have to defend the company’s Internet-based services from the threats presented.

An automated scoring engine verifies the functionality and availability of each team’s services on a periodic basis while traffic generators feed simulated user traffic into the competition network.

RIT didn’t win the national event, but the experience the students received is invaluable to them and to their future employers who keep a close eye on the competition.

Teams were scored on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats, respond to business requests, including the addition and subtraction of services, maintain the availability of Web servers and for their ability to balance security needs with business needs in the three day competition.

“There were a couple of surprises this year. For one thing the network components changed. It used to be Cisco but this year it was Juniper,” Yuan explained. “We have to expand our specialty areas and curriculum to cover things like that.”

After the competition, the NCCDC provides written feedback for schools like RIT to examine their security and information technology curriculum. Donated hardware and software from IT industry leaders is used for the competition to provide students the opportunity to work with the latest technology.

“The NCCDC is a great way for motivated students to demonstrate their job skills to sponsors like Deloitte who are actively involved in the competition and to other companies who may want to hire them,” said J.R. Reagan, a Deloitte & Touche LLP principal and head of the Center for Federal Innovation.