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Students among exclusive competitors in Cyber 9/12 Challenge

Lewis University students among exclusive competitors in Cyber 9/12 Challenge

Published: June 18, 2013.


(Left to right) Matt Kwiatkowski, Dr. Ray Klump,
Brian Wilhelm, Brandon Greene and Joe Kunnengode

Three Lewis University students participated in the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge, sponsored by the Atlantic Council. The Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge is a national competition that tests students' ability to craft high-level policy recommendations for dealing with a major cyber threat. It was Lewis University’s first time participating in the competition. Students Brandon Greene of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, Joseph Kunnengode of Hickory Hills, and Brian Wilhelm of New Lenox represented Lewis University.

"This was a wonderful exercise for our students to participate in," Dr. Ray Klump, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science and director of the Master of Science in Information Security program, said. “It gave them an opportunity to use what they have learned in their coursework and to work as a team to solve a very complex information security challenge. The students did amazing work, and the judges were impressed. The opportunity these students had to participate in this high-profile, thoroughly interactive national competition, and their performance as a team, testify to the quality of the program."

Only 15 schools in the nation qualified to participate. In the first part of the competition, the students wrote a 2,500-word policy brief that recommended to the President of the United States a strategy for dealing with a hypothetical but plausible threat to a vital component of the nation's critical infrastructure. On June 15, the students presented their recommendations to a panel of judges at American University in Washington, D.C. On that day, the students presented the components of their plan, identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of their various recommendations. Next, they were presented with new information related to the incident and were challenged to revise their recommendations in light of how the situation had evolved. They presented their revised plan later the same day. Their overall performance for the competition was evaluated in terms of the quality of their written policy brief and two oral presentations.

The hypothetical scenario the students were asked to address was a complex and alarming threat to the nation's oil refineries. In the scenario, 11 oil refineries, operated by three large U.S. oil companies, had their control systems hacked, halting their oil production. There was strong evidence that Russia, or at least an organization within Russia, was responsible for the attack, which used a sophisticated modular piece of malware to compromise the refineries' systems. It was suspected that Russia was involved in retaliation for and in defense against America’s alleged market influence over crude prices, which had put intense pressure on competitors. By forcing the closure of the refineries, the attackers could neutralize the American market power and gain a competitive advantage.

“As with all ongoing investigations, however, the identity of the attacker could not be declared with certainty. Of course, with an international incident like this, it would be irresponsible and dangerous to act prematurely, and any response must show sensitivity to the political, economic and security consequences,” Dr. Klump explained.

The Lewis University team was comprised of graduate and undergraduate students. Greene graduated from Lewis University with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science in 2011 and a Master of Science in Information Security in May 2013. Wilhelm graduated from Lewis University with a bachelor's degree in Computer Science in December 2012. Wilhelm and Kunnengode are currently pursuing the Master of Science in Information Security degree from Lewis University. They are on track to graduate within a year. The students were advised by Dr. Klump and Matt Kwiatkowski, deputy information security officer at Argonne National Laboratory and an instructor for several courses in the MSIS program.

The Lewis University team competed against teams from MIT, Harvard, Columbia, William and Mary, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and the U.S. Air Force, among other American universities.

“One of the key lessons of the competition is that cyber security is an inherently interdisciplinary concern. The threats are multifaceted, and the stakes are high. Responding to them requires a team of people with diverse skills. Computer scientists work alongside policy makers, legal experts, and political strategists to identify, measure, and respond to risks and threats. A comprehensive security posture, particularly as it relates to national security, requires a team of talented people in each of these areas. The nature of this competition clearly conveyed that point,” Dr. Klump continued.

For eight years, the Master of Science in Information Security program has offered a curriculum that provides a balanced and effective mix of these skills. The program teaches concepts and skills from computer science and business to prepare students to address complex information security issues from a variety of angles: how vulnerabilities arise, how they can be identified, and how they can be addressed; how risks can be identified and prioritized; how security programs can be planned and resourced; and how plans and policies must balance legal, financial, technical, and ethical concerns.

Lewis University has been recognized by the National Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. In addition to the Master of Science in Information Security program, which is offered both online and on campus, the university also has undergraduate programs in Computer Science (which includes a Concentration in Cyber Security Operations), Management Information Systems, and fast-track programs that enable majors in these undergraduate programs to earn their Masters in Information Security in just five years.

Lewis University is a Catholic university in the Lasallian tradition offering distinctive undergraduate and graduate programs to more than 6,500 traditional and adult students. Lewis offers multiple campus locations, online degree programs, and a variety of formats that provide accessibility and convenience to a growing student population. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis prepares intellectually engaged, ethically grounded, globally connected, and socially responsible graduates. The seventh largest private not-for-profit university in Illinois, Lewis has been nationally recognized by The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.

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