A ‘good run’ in marathon three-day cyber competition

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It’s not every day that a team of students manages a network of computers while under attack for three days straight by a team of professional hackers.

That’s what Michael Coppola, freshman and team captain of Northeastern’s cyber defense team said as he and six other computer science students put their skills to work against peers from 11 universities at the 2011 Northeast Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

The three-day annual event is designed to help students sharpen their skills and boost their knowledge about administering and protecting a large computer network.

As last year’s champions of the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in Texas, Northeastern’s team and the College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) hosted the event at the EMC Training Center in Franklin, Mass., from March 4 to 6.

Teams were scored based on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats, maintain availability of existing services such as mail servers and web servers, respond to business requests such as the addition or removal of services, and balance security needs against business needs.

The Rochester Institute of Technology went on to win and will represent the region at the National Cyber Defense Competition April 8 to 10.

Themis Papageorge, director of Northeastern’s graduate program in information assurance, said the event was the largest to date, and that Northeastern’s team competed well. “They demonstrated knowledge, skill and professionalism throughout the competition,” he said.

“Northeastern has had a good run,” said Kevin Amorin, the team’s coach and a lecturer in CCIS. “For two years in a row, we were this region’s champion. We were essentially a whole new team this year, but there was a good group dynamic.”

The team started preparing for the event in January, meeting regularly and volunteering anywhere from five to 10 hours a week, and covering a year’s worth of course material in about nine weeks.

“This year we learned a lot in a short time,” said Amorin. “We have a very bright future.”

Team captain Coppola, who has received academic recognition and professional accolades from the likes of Google for his work in cyber security, added, “We learned about the value of real-world experience and will be prepared with more ideas for next year.”