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Majors & Degrees

DSU cyber defense team qualifies for national competition

April 3, 2018

The Dakota State University Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) team won the North Central Regional CCDC competition on March 24. That victory qualifies them to participate in the national CCDC competition held April 13-15 in Orlando, Florida.

CCDC teams work as a “blue team,’ managing and protecting a simulated business network infrastructure which is functional, but not secure; a separate offense team, called the “red team,” attacks the environment. The blue teams are scored on their ability to detect and respond to these threats while maintaining the availability of the system.

“These are real-world scenarios that make the things we learn at DSU more applicable,” said team member Dylan Johnson, a master’s degree student in applied computer science from Slayton, Minn. This practical experience is valuable, he stated, because there will be threats in the real world, especially with banks and hospitals.

A simulated hospital setting was the cyber environment for the North Central Regional competition, held at the 8th annual DakotaCon which DSU hosted on March 23-24.

Hospital security breaches are a documented reality in the business world. A February 2018 report from the American Journal of Managed Care found that hospitals accounted for approximately one-third of all data breaches, and hospital breaches affected the largest number of individuals.

The team learned valuable lessons while detecting and defending against attacks, all while maintaining normal business operations for the theoretical hospital. Brian Vertullo, a cyber operations major from Orange, Calif., said “communication played a big role, especially on the business side.” The team dedicated one team member, Mike Garippo, to monitor that facet of the environment. Garippo is a cyber operations and network and security double major from Chicago, Illinois.

The team also had to include documentation, said Evan Bolt, a master’s degree student in applied computer science from Edgerton, Minn., such as creating policies for incident response, Johnson noted. Garippo pointed out they had to keep up with HIPAA compliance, “making sure nobody lost their personal data.”

DSU competed against seven other collegiate teams at DakotaCon, teams from North and South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Montana. At the upcoming national competition, they will face off against nine other regional winners, teams from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Virginia, Baylor University, California State-Northridge, the University of Washington, the University of Buffalo (NY) and Utah Valley University. All these schools have between 17,000 and 46,000 students. Dakota State’s enrollment in 2017 was 3,307; another national team from Indiana Tech has an enrollment of 4,384.

To prepare for the 16 hours of hands-on-keyboard competition time at nationals, the eight team members, along with the DSU Defensive Security Club, are meeting weekly to drill with mock competitions and practice. The team also plans to continue to improve communication and system back-up procedures, said Michael Cutshaw, a cyber operations major from Clear Lake, S.D.

“They’ve put in a lot of work, and really have earned this trip to the national competition,” said Cody Welu, the CCDC coach and instructor of computer science/cyber security.

The complete DSU team includes:

  • Jacob Williams, cyber operations major from Parker, S.D.
  • Nic Mews-Schmuck, cyber operations major from Emery, S.D.
  • Brian Vertullo, cyber operations major from Orange, Calif.
  • Nick O’Donnell, network and security administration major from Belgrade, Mont.
  • Dylan Johnson, master’s degree student in applied computer science, from Slayton, Minn.
  • Evan Bolt, master’s degree student in applied computer science from Edgerton, Minn.
  • Mike Garippo, cyber operations and network and security double major from Chicago, Illinois
  • Michael Cutshaw, cyber operations major from Clear Lake, S.D.

CCDC competitions have been held since 2005; this will be the fifth time that a DSU team has competed in the national tournament, including a second-place finish in 2013.