UMUC Teams Take First and Second in Inaugural Digital Forensics Investigation Challenge

Event included teams from area high schools, community colleges and four-year institutions


By Ashley Boarman (aboarman@mghus.com) |   December 5, 2012

Adelphi, MD (December 5, 2012)—Two teams of cyber security students from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) earned first and second place honors among four-year institutions at the inaugural Maryland Digital Forensics Investigation (DFI) Challenge. The event was held Nov. 29–30 at Prince George’s Community College.

The competition consisted of a live-action interactive simulation of a criminal case—from preparing a search warrant affidavit to reviewing evidence analysis reports. All work on the simulated case had to be completed in 20 minutes.

Teams had to present the findings of their investigation to a judge who reviewed the methodology teams used to collect, store and preserve the digital forensic evidence, as well as the facts of the case, to determine whether or not the suspect is guilty or not guilty.

During its investigation of a fictitious cyber bullying incident, "we found that the computer [used in the alleged crime] had been stripped of the evidence, so we had to figure out how to get evidence," explained Jean Costello, a member of the UMUC team that finished in first place. "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 bullying case."

Army Specialist Kenny Wallace, an active-duty military UMUC student stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado, served as technical advisor to the UMUC teams. Although he couldn’t be in Maryland to compete, he helped the teams 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 cybercrimes group] and had them walk me through the process."

The UMUC student teams—known as the Cyber Padawans—included Joshua Coleman (Cape May, NJ), Jean Costello (St. Louis, MO), Carlos Pacho (Olney, MD) and Jim Sigafoose (Severna Park, MD) on the first place team and Stephan Gross (Germantown, MD), Angela Jenkins (Upper Marlboro, MD) and Jake Truhlar (Lusby, MD) on the second-place team.

As the first place winners, the UMUC team will get to tour the Pentagon and meet senior members of various agencies involved with the Pentagon’s cyber security operations.

"A cyber crime can happen in just seconds, and a digital challenge such as this is a reasonably realistic test of current and future cyber security students and professionals alike," said Jeff Tjiputra, academic director of Cybersecurity at UMUC. "I'm extremely proud that both of our cyber teams placed in the top two spots in this inaugural competition, especially considering the talented competition and time constraints for this challenge—it's a truly remarkable finish. And based on the competition we've seen thus far, Maryland is certainly well on its way to securing its position as a cyber hub with so many up-and-coming cyber professionals."

A total of 28 teams from Maryland high schools, community colleges and universities participated in the inaugural competition.