February 07, 2008

'Security Dawgs' head to cyber defense contest

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Will the third time be a charm? The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Cyber Defense Team believes it just might be.

Just three years old, the eight-member student group already has garnered much attention, including a trip to the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and a fourth-place finish in its inaugural season. Now, with new state-of-the-art equipment acquired courtesy of a State Farm Companies Foundation grant and after months of hard work and preparation, the team is ready to take on the competition at the Indiana/Illinois Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition later this week at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne, Ind.

If the team can top the impressive field of universities and colleges at the two-state contest, it will advance to the regional competition in late March. The winner of that contest goes on to the national contest April 18-20 in San Antonio.

The SIUC team has practiced many hours since October, honing its skills in preparation for the collegiate exercise in security defense and protection of information technology infrastructure and networks. The team got a boost last month with the $23,600 gift from State Farm Companies Foundation that it used to purchase the new routers, switches, firewalls and components it will encounter at all phases of the competition, said Belle S. Woodward, assistant professor in the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies and the team's faculty adviser.

"I appreciate the timely support of the State Farm Companies Foundation through their gift of much-needed network equipment," said Will Devenport, director of the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies. "I am very proud of our networking and network security curriculum and faculty. Our graduates are finding great positions within this very hot sector of the industry. The excellent performance of our CCDC teams each year is a source of pride and positive recognition for the School of Information Systems and Applied Technologies, and SIUC. We could not be nearly as effective without the support of our industry partners. Their donation is an immediate help to this year's CCDC team and will continue to enhance our program in the future. Go Security Dawgs!"

Devenport said the students are quite excited about the new equipment. Woodward said with hard work, countless hours of practice and the new equipment, she believes her team will compete well Friday and Saturday.

"I am confident," Woodward said. " I have a great team of students. They are such a professional group of students and what I'm promoting in them is that, win or lose, we represent SIUC in a professional manner, working with one another in a team spirit and showing integrity.

"Thanks to State Farm Companies Foundation, the students are working and practicing with the most recent equipment and software this year. It gives them an advantage rather than practicing on outdated equipment and then going into competition and working with the newest equipment available," she said.

Each team starts the contest with a functioning network, complete with vulnerabilities and identical hardware and software. The teams get just a half-hour to scope things out and get ready to go. Then a professional "red team" goes on the attack, hurling viruses, denial of services and other problems at the competitors.

In the meantime, the teams have business "injects" to complete, such as installing equipment, adding a Web site link or other assignments similar to those that would come through in the real world of business.

Woodward said it's a very realistic simulation of the corporate information technology world. Team judging is based on how well teams keep crucial services running despite the various sieges each encounters, how well each handles the red team attacks and each team's ability to complete the assigned business injects. It's a lengthy, intense exercise requiring team members to use all of their information technology skills and savvy.

The SIUC Cyber Defense Competition Team includes, listed by hometown:

Du Quoin: Trent House, a senior information systems technologies major.

Edwardsville: Chris Helmkamp, a senior information systems technologies major.

Lake Villa: Erik Kressner, a senior information systems technologies major.

Marion: Marshall Riley, a senior computer science major.

Peoria: Aaron Ragusa, a senior information systems technologies major; Bert "Mike" Sanders, a senior computer science major.

Pontiac: Timmy Davis, the team captain and only returning member from last year's SIUC Cyber Defense team, a senior majoring in information systems technologies.

Princeton: Dave Loftus, a sophomore political science major.