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Baylor students prepare against cyber-attacks
March 27, 2018
By Karrie Tatum

If your computer was under attack, would you know what to do? For a certain group of individuals at Baylor University, cyber-attacks are an event for which they diligently prepare.

CyberSec, Baylor’s cyber-security organization, aims, “to foster a community of individuals interested in information security and connect them with recruiters for future employment, along with developing industry-related skills.” There are around 20 students who are currently involved in the organization.

Senior computer science major, Brendon Kelley, is president of CyberSec. He has witnessed CyberSec evolve as a special interest group into a serious, student organization.

“When I first joined as a freshman, the organization was much more MIS-based rather than focusing on cyber security. The premise was to help people design cyber-tools and was focused on people who did not have much, or any, experience. That’s now changed. We have gotten significantly better in competition, we made it to semi-finals last year and again this year. Now we expect people who join to come in with some sort of experience or knowledge about cybersecurity to join CyberSec. Our purpose is not to educate, but to perform at an industry level. We hope that from this experience, by the time you’re a senior, you are able to get a job anywhere.”

This year, members from the CyberSec organization competed in the Southwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (SWCCDC) and won first place. They competed against students from Hallmark University, New Mexico State University, University of Arkansas, University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University, University of Tulsa and University of Texas at San Antonio.

In this competition, student teams take on administrative and protective duties for an existing “commercial” network – typically a small company with 50+ users, seven to ten servers, and common Internet services such as a web server, mail server, and e-commerce site. Each team begins the competition with an identical set of hardware and software and is scored on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats, maintain availability of existing services such as mail servers and web servers, respond to business requests such as the addition or removal of additional services, and balance security needs against business needs. Throughout the competition an automated scoring engine is used to verify the functionality and availability of each team’s services on a periodic basis and traffic generators continuously feed simulated user traffic into the competition network. A volunteer red team provides the “external threat” all Internet-based services face and allows the teams to match their defensive skills against live opponents.*

Dr. Jeff Donahoo, professor of Computer Science and faculty lead for CyberSec, said cyber security is about safeguarding our private information and protecting the critical infrastructure we all depend on in our daily lives.

“Here, it is not sufficient to be good at CyberSec; one must be better than those who would do harm,” Donahoo said. “Who is better is determined in competition, whether simulated or real. Contests like CCDC allow future practitioners to compete where failure, while unpleasant, is constructive.”

Kelley is co-captain of Baylor’s SWCCDC winning team. He explains that in order to be successful for competition, practice is imperative.

“We practice as a team about seven hours a week, and have been doing so the last 10 weeks. And I don’t think we are the only team who practices as much as we do. Any team that performs well spends a lot of time practicing. And if you do well enough in competition and it’s something you want to do, getting a job in cybersecurity is almost guaranteed. Three guys who competed last year were hired from the work they did at the competition.”

Donahoo added that to train, “we have built a system where we can attack without damaging campus systems,” a method that has proven successful.

This is only the second time that Baylor students have competed in this competition, and this is the first year they have won. Even before the competition took place, Kelley was confident his team was more than prepared.

“I think with this being our second year, we have a much better understanding of what to expect. We have also spent a lot of time in practice. I believe that our best performance has the chance to win.”

Obviously, Kelley was correct. The team will go on to compete in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in Orlando, Florida, with nine other teams selected from across the country April 13-15, 2018.

*Competition information retrieved from CCDC website. Click Here to visit.
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