Regional students work together to learn cyber defense skills at NCI

Regional Students Learn Cyber Defense Skills at NCI

There was only one problem at New College Institute’s Cyber Defense Competition, a “hacker.”

James Madison University computer science professors and JMU Cyber Defense Club students were on-site at New College Institute to provide a realistic experience to teams of 2–3 students and one coach. Each team was presented with a scenario of being the newly hired information technology department for a small company. Each team had two computers, the company’s Windows Client and Linux server. The teams had to ensure all business-critical services continued and set up the appropriate systems to protect three files containing Intellectual Property (IP) for the company.

“This was a great experience for me since I want to become an engineer. I really enjoyed finding out what cybersecurity is. I would like to learn more,” said G’miya Myers a twelfth-grade student at Magna Vista High School.

During the competition, teams were continually protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical information technology assets. Teams were also asked to improve the company’s security posture and defend it against cyberattacks.

The JMU students served as consultants to the teams throughout the all-day competition, answering questions when needed. Two large monitors in the room displayed real-time updates for each of the team’s servers and status of all components. The “hacker” was unbeknownst to the students, but he was in the back of the room on a computer as well. JMU professor Brett Tjaden Ph.D. served as the “hacker” and identified himself at the end of the competition.

“Cyber defenders deal with things called threats, a potential violation of system security. There are five necessary components regarding cyber defense: prepare, protect, detect, triage, and respond,” said Tjaden.

“It’s great for NCI to do something for our students that is relevant and an economic driver,” said Zeb Talley, Martinsville City Schools Superintendent.

Each team was scored throughout the competition on its performance and at the end of the competition the team that cost its company the least amount of money was the winner. The winning team with a 95% uptime representing Bassett High School included Justin Compton, Colby Willard, Michael Todd, and Donna Hicks (coach). The second-place team, representing the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Blue Ridge with a 94% uptime included Michael King, Malachi King, Maria Johnson, and Catrica Dillard (coach). The third-place team with an 89% uptime representing Tunstall High School included Jenica Howell, Christopher Davidson, and Ed Sherlock (coach).

“We are growing our IT program from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Today’s competition at NCI would be a great capstone experience,” said Mark Jones, Pittsylvania County Schools Superintendent.

“It doesn’t matter if you plan to go into cybersecurity, you always need to secure your technology including your cell phones, email, and computers,” said JMU computer science professor Hossain Heydari Ph.D.