The university’s Security Dawgs protected their cyber turf during the weekend.
The team took home first place and the state championship at the Illinois Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition hosted Saturday at SIU. The competition, which is designed to test network security and information systems students’ skills and quickness, develops and expands the particapating schools’ information security programs,, said Tom Imboden, Security Dawgs coach and assistant professor of information systems technologies.
“Students learn and use skills directly applicable to their future careers and get a leg up for job hunting,” he said. “Several big companies sponsor and recruit employees from team members.”
The team played as network-security technicians for a business during the competition. Its task was to defend its cyber domain from attacks by “hackers,” played by cyber-security professionals while simultaneously completing various network tasks and maintaining the network’s stability and security.
“The teams are asked to perform tasks that are completely unexpected and often times are designed to have them intentionally make their systems less secure, giving the ‘red team,’ or the hacker bad guys, an easier time,” Imboden said.
The Security Dawgs competed against Lakeland College while competing online against other universities such as DePaul University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University. The team will next participate in the Midwest Regional competition at Moraine Valley Community College March 22 and 23 in Palos Hills.
Imboden said the team’s preparation led to success despite the fierce competition.
“They have been practicing since the beginning of fall semester,” he said. “They talked about strategy and even set up their own mock-up of the competition environment to practice.”
Imboden said the way the team’s interaction also added to its composure during the stressful competition.
“You can tell that the group has bonded and has a camaraderie that attributed to their success,” he said.
While Imboden said his leadership and experience helped the team, he gave most of the credit to Travis Cooper, a senior from Charleston studying information systems technology and the team’s captain.
“With three little kids at home, I’m limited in the amount of time I can spend,” Imboden said. “I try to stress the framework of tasks and strategies to approach the competition, and Travis works to get them all practiced and ready to go when the competition starts.”
Cooper said the competition’s pace adds to its difficulty.
“While the competition moves much faster than a regular day at the office for an information security employee, it gives the students a great opportunity to see all aspects of what it will be like in a job,” he said.
The ability to practice high pressure, real-world cyber-security skills — along with competition’s increasing national recognition in network security circles nationwide — sold Cooper on participation, he said.
“Employers are becoming pretty familiar with the (competition), and when you can mention that you participated in the event, it really can help a student land a job in the field,” he said.
Cooper said team practices include setting up sample network systems and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses to determine where potential attacks could come from.
Even though his team won, Cooper said the competition day’s scope took its toll.
“The tasks we are given are often tasks that would take much longer to do in the real world versus the competition environment,” he said. “We get so many of the tasks throughout the competition that there becomes a point where you just feel like they are coming in nonstop.”
Imani Hudson, a junior from Chicago studying information systems technology, was a team alternate during the competition. She said the team put its most successful defensive strategies into play, and that planning won the competition.
“Being a part of the team was definitely a learning experience for me,” she said.
Cooper said his prior participation in a competition called the National Cyber League added to his leadership ability.
“It was an individual competition that put you more in the role of the attacker for some of the events,” he said. “It gave students a chance to try out some of the tools and techniques that are used against them in the CCDC.”
Imboden said cyber-security training and experience is critical in today’s business climate, and businesses and universities who can’t keep up may suffer.
The university does offer classes to improve students’ cyber security skills, he said.
“The university has recently taken great strides to ensure that their systems are protected and are constantly maintaining and improving their security,” he said.