SPICE Cyber Defense Team Heads to Argonne National Labs 2018 Competition


On Thursday, April 5th, SPICE's Cyber Security Defense team heads out to compete in Argonne National Laboratory's Cyber Defense Competition 2018. Led by Team Leader George Osterholdt, six researchers will compete in the 2018 Capture The Flag (CTF) competition. This will be the team's first competition since the creation of the Security and Privacy in Informatics, Computing, and Engineering's (SPICE) new Cyber Defense Competition course.

Capture the Flag competitions are practical exercises in network administration and cyber security. As a learning tool, Cyber Defense Competitions present an active learning experience that teaches practical skills, both technical and managerial, as explained by The University of Texas at San Antonio's Art Conklin in Cyber Defense Competitions and Information Security Education: An Active Learning Solution for a Capstone Course:

Using a Cyber Defense Competition to provide a hands-on opportunity for students to test their skills and develop team based management skills in an operational business environment impacts many constituencies. Participating students learn in a true active learning environment. Instructors are able to evaluate the thoroughness of their curriculum in its intended setting. Other students learn as teams prepare for the competition. In the end, everyone feels they have learned important lessons.

SPICE's team is made up of Ph.D. and Masters students drawn from SPICE's new Cyber Defense Competition course which launched this spring. Their advisor, George Osterholt, is a support manager with a penchant for lock picking, both physical and virtual. The team includes members DongInn Kim, Omkar Bhide, Jacob Abbott, Helen Dougherty, Advait Marathe, and Zack Marvel.

This year's challenge focuses on the team’s ability to harden out of date systems while simultaneously bringing new capabilities online - all while under direct attack from expert red team members simulating hackers. To succeed our team will have to not only create, document, and implement best practices and custom systems, but it will also have to dynamically respond to an unceasing array of real world threats targeted at their system. It is no simple challenge.

SPICE's team is returning for its second year in the Argonne competition. 2017 was the team's first entry and a superb learning experience with the team placing well.  George Osterholt reported after last year's competition, 

We learned a great deal in both how scoring works and in how the hacking itself is done.  We'll do even better next time.

Last year's experience helped inform SPICE's decision to build a class that led directly into these competitions as a way to focus its world class academic training into real world scenarios and honed skill sets. Future classes will bridge undergraduates into cyber defense training. In addition, outreach efforts are planned for high school students via CTF events. It is all intended to build a pipeline of interest and candidates to be shaped into the next generation of cyber defenders.