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JMU Cyber Defense Team Advances

By: Elizabeth Principi
Posted: February 5, 2009

PHOTO: JMU Cyber Defense Team“People have cried and thrown up before,” said Computer Science major Kevin Field.  “It’s a stressful environment.”

The stress didn’t eat away at James Madison University's Cyber Defense Team, who took first place at the qualifying round of the Collegiate National Cyber Defense Competition.  Now,the team of nine is preparing for a trip to the Regional round this March, where they hope to advance to the National competition in San Antonio in late April.

A cyber defense competition consists of two teams, the red team and the blue team.  The red team, or the hackers, is made up of experienced security professionals.  These hackers attack the blue team who are the students, and their “company.”  Throughout the competition, each white team's score will be based on how well they react to outside threats (the red team), how available their company's services remain, how quickly they respond to business requests, and how well they balance security and business needs.

PHOTO: Cyber Defense TeamBefore the qualifying competition, a team gets one hour to familiarize themselves with the network before the red team starts their attack.

In the hour before the attack, the students have to act quickly and diligently.  “The first thing we did was make sure all the machines we thought were going to be there were,” said Computer Science Graduate Georgia Weidman. “We also made sure everyone had the right IP address and that no extraneous wireless access devices were hidden under the table.“

During the competition students could only assess how the other teams were doing by their behavior.  “Sometimes teams would sit there with their hands in their lap,” said Computer Science major Michael Cottingham. “We could guess by their actions that they were not too happy with how they were doing.”

The James Madison team never backed down, and walked away with the first place spot, even beating out two time Regional Champions, Millersville University.  But now, with the Regional contest just around the corner it is back to work for these nine students.

“I feel like I am a little bit more prepared for the stress level,” said Computer Science major Rachel Russell.  “I definitely know what I need to do in order to be ready for [Regionals].”

By looking at what went wrong in the qualifying round, the team hopes to address those mistakes in order to be prepared in March.

“We started out with a breakdown of what went wrong and what went right.  By working on what went wrong we can keep it from going wrong again,” said Weidman, who is also the team’s captain. “We are working with the same set up we had at qualifiers and just getting everybody comfortable with their systems.”

These competitions, which can bear a lot of pressure on the students, are a stepping-stone into the real world.

“I am actually going into information security,” said Weidman.  “I am going to be a penetration tester in the government and private sectors and I feel like everything that is going to help me came from cyber defense.”

Political Science major, Kevin Bojarski, shared a similar appreciation for the cyber defense team.  “I have no doubt that everything I am learning is preparing me for a career.  Every company needs to make sure that their sensitive information about the company or its customers is secure and cannot be accessed by people who may use it maliciously.”

With bright futures in the Computer Sciences awaiting these students, the next stop on their journey is Baltimore for the regional competition.  When asked about their chances, Weidman replied, “We are going to win.”