Who's No. 1? D.C. area schools vie for cybersecurity honors

Fierce competition part of effort to develop security pros; 'We need more geeks'

Teams from four Washington area colleges competed Thursday in a cybersecurity contest hosted by Computer Sciences Corp. to test their ability to defend networks against red team hackers.

The contest, called CSC CYB3R BATTL3GROUND, was an opportunity both for the company to demonstrate its interest in the skills of  emerging cybersecurity professionals and for the students to demonstrate those skills, said Carlos Solari, vice president of cyber technologies and services at the systems integrator.

“We are in the competition to attract talent,” Solari said. “It’s an opportunity for us to connect with the universities.”

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Towson University of Maryland took top honors, followed by the Community College of Baltimore County; the University of Maryland, College Park; and Virginia’s James Madison University.

The four teams exchanged the lead throughout the day, and the final point spread was not great, Solari said. “At the end of the day, it wasn’t a drubbing for anyone.”

Although the contest was not affiliated with regional or national collegiate cybersecurity competitions, it is part of a national effort to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and math education in general, and in developing a professional cybersecurity workforce in particular. Agencies have found a shortage of trained professionals in their efforts to meet the growing demand for staff to defend government IT systems and networks.

Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary in the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, identified manpower as a primary challenge in a digital environment in which threats and complexity are growing exponentially.

“We’ve got to address the people problem,” Reitinger said Thursday at an identity management and cybersecurity conference hosted by TechAmerica.

Despite a six-fold increase of cybersecurity professionals in the DHS National Cybersecurity Division over the last two years, “I still don’t have enough of them, and getting them is really hard,” he said. “We need more geeks. Being a geek has got to be cool.”

Cybersecurity competitions at the college level and earlier have become a tool for raising the profile and status of geeks. More than 600 teams are participating in the National High School Cyber Defense Competition, which will culminate in a championship round at the Gaylord National Convention Center near Washington in April. At the fifth annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, hosted earlier this year at the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute for Cyber Security, a team from Northeastern University took top honors.

The CSC competition, held in conjunction with its Innovation Center Open House in Chantilly, Va., was the first of what the company hopes will be an annual event, and which eventually could become a qualifying event for national competition.

“We wanted to see how it went,” Solari said. “We are quite enthused by the whole event.”

It was decided to keep the event small the first year, limited to four schools from the Washington area. A key criteria for the entrants was an established computer security program and experience in cybersecurity competitions. The teams were charged with keeping a network that included a switch and a number of virtual services up and running and providing basic services in the face of attacks from a red team from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The attackers included penetration testers from CSC and BreakingPoint Systems, as well as a number of students from the University of Maryland University College.

After the competition was done, CSC donated five Dell Vistro laptop computers that had been used in it to the competing schools’ computer science departments.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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