January 24, 2007

SIUC to host statewide cyber defense competition

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Would-be computer hackers and "cyber-terrorists" will face a stiff challenge next month at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

SIUC's School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies will host the Illinois Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, Feb. 23-25. Students from five universities and community colleges will defend a corporate computer network — and keep it running and functional — against a cyber-attack, school director William R. Devenport said.

The school is in SIUC's College of Applied Sciences and Arts.

This is first time SIUC will host the statewide event. SIUC's team won the Midwest Regional in March 2006 and finished fourth in the national competition a month later.

The U.S. government and its military and defense contractors use the same competition students will face in the three-day event, Devenport said. The competition costs about $16,000. A grant from the National Science Foundation covers some of the costs, with donations from industry and alumni making up the rest.

Each of the five, eight-member teams will be sequestered in private labs and receive identical sets of equipment — network systems of computer servers, clients, routers and switches to model a small business, Devenport said.

The multiple operating systems will require various network functions such as Web, email and database services. Security professionals, or "hackers," will set up operations and attack each team's security defense.

Students will need to assess what they have, set up services the business requires, and secure their system against attack.

"The neat thing about this contest is this puts the students in a situation where it can be an exact scenario to what they are going to face when they get out there in the real world," Devenport

said. "It forces them to work in a team environment, on a system they are not familiar with, and respond to normal tasks they would have to face."

The comprehensive scoring system will rate the effectiveness of the services provided by each team's system, and the students' management skills in piecing together their organization. Coaches are not allowed in labaratories during the competition.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said Devenport, who is busily working out event logistics.

Participating schools must have curriculum content aligned with standards set by the Committee on National Security Systems. The National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security also support the competition, Devenport said.

"SIUC is proud to be one of the few Illinois post-secondary institutions that qualified to participate and have the honor to host the competition," he said.

SIUC, DePaul University, Illinois State University, the University of Illinois and Moraine Valley Community College received participation applications.

The state champion will face winning teams from Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Indiana in the Midwest Regional in March. Regional winners compete in the second national competition in April the University of Texas at San Antonio.