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DSU team takes the offense at national cyber competition

November 12, 2017

Dakota State University cyber students have a long history of success competing in regional and national defensive cyber competitions.

This month, a team of DSU students participated for the first time in an offensive competition, the Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition (CPTC).

“Instead of defending from attackers we got to pretend we were the attackers trying to strengthen the security of the company we were attacking.” said team captain Logan Sampson. This is called penetration testing, or pen testing. Sampson is a cyber operations major from Findlay, Ohio.

The DSU team won first place in the CPTC Central Region competition in October, which qualified them for the national CPTC competition Nov. 3-5 at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. DSU competed against nine other schools from across the country at the national event, including Stanford University, University of Central Florida and University of Buffalo. DSU came home with the award for best physical penetration testing.

The competition included a full day of offensive work, trying to break into the computer network of a mock elections provider. “This is what real penetration testing is like,” Sampson said. The competition was followed by a long night creating a 15-minute presentation for the panel of judges, said team member Brian Vertullo. The presentation highlighted the system’s weaknesses and the team’s recommendations to secure that network. Vertullo is a cyber operations major from Orange, Calif.

In addition to the experience with offensive hacking, the students learned teamwork, capitalizing on individual strengths to divide the work load. They also combined their knowledge to brainstorm ideas.

“Working as a team, more options are brought to light and discussed, options which help them complete their goal of gaining full access to the system,” said team advisor Dr. Austin O’Brien. He is an assistant professor in DSU’s Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

All these lessons will be beneficial to the team for the 2018 CPTC. “We’ll be so much better prepared for next year,” Sampson said.

DSU’s regional team included Sampson, Vertullo, and fellow cyber operations major Jacob Williams (from Parker, S.D.) and Dylan Johnson (from Slayton, Minn.). For the national event at the Rochester Institute of Technology, students Mike Shlanta (from Sioux Falls, S.D.) and Chad Horack (from Washington, New Jersey) joined the team. Shlanta was the DSU team member who competed in the physical penetration portion of the competition; he was the only one out of the 10 participating teams to successfully hack into an election booth.