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Online cyber competition creates opportunity for teamwork

Academics, Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences

“People can't solve everything by themselves,” said Dakota State University student Leron Gray.

That’s why a team is important, said Gray, a DSU online student from San Antonio, Texas. He and four teammates learned this important teamwork lesson by participating in the National Cyber League (NCL) competition this spring.

“The National Cyber League is a semi-annual online competition,” Gray explained, which provided great opportunities for teamwork. Even though many of the team members had never met in person, “all of us definitely brought our own experiences to the table and we were able to solve more challenges than we could independently,” he stated.

As part of the competition, the teams compete in a variety of events, including cryptography, password cracking, log analysis and network traffic analysis, and wireless access and web application exploitation. Because of this diversity, the event “brings to light weaknesses that you may not have known you had before,” said Logan Sampson, a cyber operations major from Findlay, Ohio.

“One of our biggest hurdles we managed to cross was exploiting certain database configurations that none of us had seen before, as well as fully understanding the tools we thought we knew (namely, Wireshark) to solve a few of the challenges,” said Gray. The team, calling themselves the Trojan Horse, also gained knowledge on common Industrial Control Systems (ICS) and tools used to manipulate them.

NCL competitions are individual throughout the regular season, but for postseason, individuals form teams which are divided into three brackets, either gold, silver and bronze. Placement is decided by the average of regular season scores.

DSU competed in the gold bracket, scoring 2,890 points out of 3,000 with an accuracy of 89.83 percent. That placed the Trojan Horse third in the Gold Bracket, out of 43 competing teams, and fourth out of 264 teams across all the brackets. Along with Gray and Sampson, other team members included cyber operations majors Brian Vertullo from Orange, Calif., Jarod Keene from Rapid City, S.D., and Guillermo Cura from La Feria, Texas.

NCL is a non-profit organization based in Chevy Chase, Maryland. The organization was created in 2011 to provide a training ground to develop, practice, and validate participants’ cybersecurity knowledge and skills. DSU has long history of success at the competitions, including first place finishes in 2014 and 2015.