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DSU team wins at regional, national cyber competition

November 7, 2017

For many years, Dakota State University cyber students have competing in defensive cyber competitions, but for the first time, a team of DSU students participated in a defensive competition, the Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition (CPTC).

The DSU team won first place in the Central Region competition in October and went on to win the award for best physical penetration testing at the third annual national CPTC, held Nov. 3-5 at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. DSU competed against nine other schools from across the country, including Stanford, University of Central Florida and University of Buffalo.

The teams spent a full day on the offensive side of cyber security, trying to break into the computer network of a mock elections provider. This is called pen testing, or penetration testing.

“This is what real penetration testing is like,” said team captain Logan Sampson. “Instead of defending from attackers we got to pretend we were the attackers in order to strengthen the security of the company we were attacking.”

The day of competition was followed by a long night creating a 15-minute presentation for the panel of judges, said Sampson and teammate Brian Vertullo. The presentation highlighted the system’s weaknesses and plans to better secure that network.

The students learned to work together as a team, capitalizing on individual strengths when diving the work load, and combining their knowledge to brainstorm ideas. “Working as a team, more options are brought to light and discussed, options which will help them complete their goal of gaining full access to the system,” said the team’s advisor Dr. Austin O’Brien. He is an assistant professor in the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

The team also learned technical aspects and practical lessons which will be beneficial in next year’s CPTC. “We’ll be so much better prepared for next year,” Sampson said.

DSU’s regional team included Sampson, Jacob Williams, Brian Vertullo and Dylan Johnson; for the national event at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), they were joined by Mike Shlanta and Chad Horack. 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.

CPTC is sponsored by tech companies such as IBM, Crowe Horwath (a public accounting, consulting and technology firm), Uber (a transport company), Hurricane Labs (a managed security services provider), Eaton (a power management company), Indeed (an employment search engine company) and IEEE (an international technical professional organization).