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DSU’s cyber defense team won the North Central Regionals, and will compete in the national event. Team members include: Nick Alholinna (left), Nick O’Donnell, Brian Vertullo, Andrew Reps, Peter Engels, Chase Lucas, Michael Cutshaw, and Michael Garippo.

DSU team takes experience to CCDC nationals

Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences, Academics

Unforeseen situations often come up in the world of cyber security.

Case in point, at last weekend’s North Central Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), the scenario for the event was a cryptocurrency exchange, said Brian Vertullo, a cyber operations major from Orange, Calif.

“Most of us hadn’t worked with crypto exchange before,” said Nick O’Donnell. “It’s not a very well-known area, so we had a learning curve of all the programs and applications that go along with it.” O’Donnell is a network and security administration major from Belgrade, Mont.

“It’s definitely the first time I’ve seen a set up like it at a competition,” said Chase Lucas, a network and security administration major from Ocala, Florida, but teammate Peter Engels pointed out that “we found ways that worked.” Engels is a network and security administration major from Minneota, Minn.

Communication skills are important. Lucas said, “it is really important to be able to communicate clearly and efficiently with your teammates to synchronize a plan.”

The team’s plan was a success, as the eight DSU students beat six other teams from the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming to be named the North Central Regional CCDC champions. That victory gains them the right to attend the national competition April 23-25 in Orlando, Florida. The scenario for that competition will be completely different, and “we’ll have less than an hour to prepare,” said O’Donnell.

In competition settings, the teams work to balance the security needs of a simulated company’s environment against its business needs. They must detect and respond to outside threats from a volunteer “red team” while keeping the business’s normal functions running, things such as email and web servers.

These situations are very applicable to real life in cyber security. “You see a lot of the same threats you’d expect working in a cyber security position,” Lucas stated.

Michael Cutshaw noted “we also work with the same operating systems and infrastructure that a company might have,” such as vendor-based products. Cutshaw is a cyber operations major from Clear Lake, S.D.

Along with communication, experience helps the students deal with these unknowns, so they have been training and taking part in as many competitions as possible. Four of the eight members of the 2019 team were on the 2018 DSU team that placed third at the CCDC nationals; another member was part of the defensive security team that took fourth place in the nation last fall; three others have been on exhibition teams. Their faculty advisor, Dr. Cody Welu, competed at the national CCDC twice as a student, and was on the DSU team that placed second in 2013.

“This experience builds as the years go on,” Welu said.

At the 2019 CCDC, the DSU team will be competing against nine other teams from the 10 CCDC regions across the country, including: Utah Valley University; University of Alaska Anchorage; University of Tulsa; Rochester Institute of Technology; University of Washington; Stanford University; University of Virginia; Baldwin Wallace University; and University of Central Florida.

The 2019 DSU team members and their majors include: Peter Engels – network and security administration, from Minneota, Minn.; Michael Garippo – cyber operations and network and security administration double major, from Chicago, Illinois; Chase Lucas – network and security administration, from Ocala, Florida; Nick Alholinna -- cyber operations, from Watertown, S.D.; Andrew Reps – network and security administration, from Belgrade, Minn.; Michael Cutshaw – cyber operations, from Clear Lake, S.D.; Nick O’Donnell - network and security administration, from Belgrade, Mont.; Brian Vertullo – cyber operations, from Orange, Calif.