Regional Competition to Put College Students' Cybersecurity Skills to the Test

During an upcoming cyber defense competition, a community college team will face a scenario that a real IT team might face — trying to keep the opposition out and protect customers’ data.

by Ryan Marshall, The Frederick News-Post, Md. / March 24, 2017

(TNS) -- On a marker board at the front of a computer lab at Frederick Community College (FCC), Tony Punturiero mapped out a rough drawing of the computer system his team would have to defend.

Punturiero coaches the college’s cyber team, as it prepares for the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition regional finals March 30 through April 1 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

FCC will face teams from schools in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware, including the University of Maryland at College Park, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Towson University.

As Punturiero sketched ideas on the board, team members tried to game out how the competition will go, and what obstacles and problems they’re likely to encounter.

Each team member will handle multiple responsibilities and tasks.

“The goal of this competition is time management,” Punturiero said.

They’ll be on the Blue team competing against the Red team, a group of professionals impersonating hackers attempting to get into the FCC team’s systems.

With the FBI investigating Russian hacking during the 2016 presidential campaign and high-profile security breaches at schools and companies such as Sony and Target, the skills the team is learning are particularly relevant.

Team members try to talk about events going on in the news, as well as how to defend against an attack and how hackers try to break into systems, Punturiero said.

A 2014 FCC graduate with an associate’s degree in information technology, Punturiero, 20, created the team last year and works as the school’s cyber security lab technician. He’s finishing his bachelor’s degree online from the University of Maryland University College in cybersecurity.

The field isn’t likely to stop growing any time soon. Employers such as the federal government, government contractors and other employers are hiring people to keep up with the constant attacks, Punturiero said.

A Government Accountability Office report released in September showed that cyber incidents against federal agencies increased by more than 1,300 percent in the past decade. Attacks increased from 5,503 in fiscal 2006 to 77,183 in fiscal 2016.

“It’s a great time to be in this field,” Punturiero said.

During the competition, the FCC team will face a scenario that a real information technology team might face — trying to keep the Red team out and protect customers’ data, said Derek Sappington, the FCC team’s captain.

Sappington said his experience on the team helped him recently get a job as a vulnerability analyst at the G2 Corporation, a cybersecurity company with an office in Annapolis Junction.

Team member Brandon Skipper helped sketch what the team might expect at the competition.

Skipper, 33, is a mechanic who said he’s looking for a less physical career that also offers a better future and more money.

One challenge of learning cybersecurity is that there’s always more information to figure out, he said.

“The more you learn, the more you realize you need to learn,” Skipper said.

©2017 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.