UMUC Cybersecurity Team Continues to Dominate in Competitions

By Elizabeth Schroen (eschroen@umuc.edu) |   December 5, 2012

The UMUC Cyber Padawans—teams of cyber security students, alumni and faculty—continue to dominate in cyber security competitions, ranking among the top teams at recent state and global competitions.

Mitre Competition 2012 Padawans team photo

Clockwise from top, UMUC Cyber Padawans competing in the Maryland DFI Challenge: Carlos Pacho, Jim Sigafoose, Joshua Coleman and Jean Costello.

The Winning Cyber Padawans

First place, Maryland DFI Challenge: Joshua Coleman, Jean Costello, Carlos Pacho, Jim Sigafoose

Second place, Maryland DFI Challenge: Stephan Gross, Angela Jenkins, Jake Truhlar

Third place, DC3: Armando Quintananieves, Kenny Wallace

Cybersecurity at UMUC

Learn more about UMUC's cyber security programs.

Two teams of undergraduate students studying cyber security and computer networks and security earned first- and second-place honors in the four-year college category at the Maryland Digital Forensics Investigation (DFI) Challenge, held November 29-30, 2012. In this quick challenge, teams had just 20 minutes to investigate a cyber bullying case, from preparing a search warrant affidavit to reviewing evidence analysis reports.

Following that win, on December 3, 2012, the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center announced the final rankings in its year-long Digital Forensics Challenge, known as DC3. UMUC ranked third in a field of 18 U.S. undergraduate teams—and fourth among 27 worldwide undergraduate competitors— after many months of working to solve difficult exercises, some of which have no known solutions.

With two bachelor's programs, four master's programs and five graduate certificates*, UMUC is training tomorrow's cyber security leaders. Our students are applying knowledge gained in the classroom to solve real-world problems on the job—and in industry competitions.

Maryland DFI Challenge

For the Maryland DFI Challenge, the team turned to Army Specialist Kenny Wallace, an active-duty military student stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado, who served as technical advisor. Although he couldn't be in Maryland to compete, he helped the team in their virtual preparations by tapping his military and law enforcement knowledge, as well as colleagues at his internship at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"We had 20 minutes to complete an entire forensics case. No one on the team had ever done that," Wallace said. "Being that I intern in an agency where we do this on a daily basis, I sat down with digital forensics specialists [at ICE in the cyber crimes group] and had them walk me through the process."

Based on his research, Wallace developed a technical report that team members used to prepare for the case.

Wallace started his studies at UMUC in 2011 after returning from a tour in Afghanistan with injuries. He is pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer networks and security. With credits that transferred from his prior studies at High Point University in North Carolina, he hopes to earn his degree by 2014 and then pursue a Master of Science in Cybersecurity.

Fellow Cyber Padawan Jean Costello was a member of the group that placed first in the DFI challenge. Costello lives in St. Louis, Missouri, but is considering a move to the East Coast soon to pursue a career in cyber security. While visiting the Maryland area this semester, she took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the live DFI challenge.

UMUC's diverse study body is an asset to the team. With a wide range of life and work experiences, each member of the Cyber Padawans brings a different perspective and knowledge base to the challenges. Several members of Costello's team used experiences from their UMUC digital forensics courses to help solve the case.

"During the investigation, we found that the computer had been stripped of the evidence, so we had to figure out how to get evidence," she explained. "The computer showed that files had been put on a USB drive. When we searched the suspect, we found a half-dollar coin on him that was concealing a USB drive. The drive had e-mails the suspect sent in the cyber bulling case."

DC3 Challenge

Unlike the speedy 20-minute Maryland DFI Challenge, the DC3 Challenge stretched over many months. Small teams representing universities, government agencies and private companies are given nearly a year to solve as many of the 35 challenges as possible. One category of exercises in the competition has no known solutions, challenging the competitors to solve the unsolvable. The challenges worth the most points require the competitors to write custom software.

"Everything I'm learning in the classes, I have applied in the challenges," Wallace said.

Although he hasn't taken digital forensics courses yet, Wallace collaborated with other Cyber Padawans, faculty members and colleagues at his job and internship to expand his knowledge as he tackled the exercises.

"It was definitely a challenge—and a learning experience," he said. "[The Cyber Padawans are] friendly people, eager to learn, who love to participate. We constantly learn from each other."

For their fourth-place win, the Cyber Padawans completed 10 of the exercises. Wallace is already gearing up for next year's DC3, which starts in December 2012.

'Best of the Best'

Like Wallace, Costello doesn't have a cyber security background, but she was drawn to the field because of its growing job prospects. She previously earned a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of South Dakota and worked for years in auditing, eventually in information technology auditing, then programming and project management. Costello decided to leave the project management field and become a full-time undergraduate student, pursuing a bachelor's degree in cyber security. She is currently enrolled in an ethical hacking course, among others, and plans to complete her degree next year.

"I was looking for a college with a strong reputation in cyber security and a college that had online degrees. UMUC really stood out," Costello said. "The curriculum is well respected in the cyber security community."

After learning about the Cyber Padawans this summer, Costello contacted the team to join.

"I wanted to work with really bright people who have a passion for cyber security like me—and I wanted to have some fun while doing it," she said. "I decided, [the Cyber Padawans] are the best of the best—I wanted to get to know those people."

Networking and Career Advantages

For their win at the Maryland DFI Challenge, the Cyber Padawans were invited to the Pentagon to network with top government and military officials representing the DoD Cyber Crime Center, Naval Crime Investigative Service and U.S. Army Cyber Command.

"The speakers told us about their departments and recruiting, fielded questions, invited us to submit resumes and gave us their contact information," Costello said. "We felt very honored."

With the government looking to fill 10,000 critical cyber security jobs in the near future and four times as many openings in the private sector**, students are looking for ways to gain the one-year of experience needed for many entry-level posts. Pentagon officials told students that their competition experience can help them qualify for these entry-level jobs.

Becoming a Padawan

Thanks to the Cyber Padawans' remarkable success in competitions, interest in the team has skyrocketed, according to Jeff Tjiputra, DSc, academic director of Cybersecurity and Computer Networks and Security for UMUC's Undergraduate School.

Tjiputra developed a series of competition-style exercises that prospective team members must complete to qualify for the team. The exercises will help to identify new team members' strengths, knowledge and skill levels. To learn more, e-mail jeff.tjiputra@umuc.edu.

* More information about certificates, including gainful employment disclosures, is available at www.umuc.edu/certificates.

** Source: Washington Post