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Chase Cotton, director of UD’s Cybersecurity Minor and MS programs, engages campers in the new iSuite facility.

UD hosts cybersecurity camp

Photo by Doug Baker

At state of Delaware summer program, students learned how to outwit hackers

When Jose Monsalve was 10, he used to tinker with his family’s computer — much to his mother’s dismay.

In late July, Monsalve, who is now a UD graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, sat and listened as experts from the FBI, Secret Service and private firms specializing in cybersecurity shared some of their experiences catching the perpetrators of phishing scams and other forms of cyber fraud.

It was just one of the many sessions at the eighth annual State of Delaware Summer Cyber Camp program, which was held in late July at the University of Delaware’s Newark campus.

Monsalve appreciated the opportunity to learn about the ethics of cybersecurity, “not just on paper, from people in the field that have to make those decisions,” he says. He attended the camp to bolster his understanding of the threats out there. “It’s better to know how people are acting badly and know how to protect yourself,” he says, especially in high-performance computing, where vast amounts of data are processed rapidly, meaning the effects of malware could spiral out of control in no time.

Why cyber camp?

The State of Delaware Summer Cyber Camp program was created to train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, a mission so important that Sen. Tom Carper and Gov. John Carney stopped by this year’s camp to announce a statewide cybersecurity training initiative.

Cybersecurity training is increasingly critical as malicious hackers find new ways to compromise the information in computers, smartphones and other connected devices.

In a recent survey by consulting firm ESG Global, 72 percent of cybersecurity and IT professionals said their job is harder than it was two years ago.

Sponsored by U.S. Cyber Challenge, the Delaware Summer Cyber Camp program is presented in collaboration with UD, Delaware State University, Wilmington University, Delaware Technical Community College and the Delaware Department of Technology and Information. This year’s class of 30 included undergraduate and graduate students from these local universities, plus a few high school students, all of whom passed an online test to earn a spot.  

The U.S. Cyber Challenge, which trains cybersecurity professionals with support from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, also sponsored camps in Utah and Illinois this summer.

Training the good guys in the fight against hackers

Instructors from U.S. Cyber Challenge and the SANS Institute — a company specializing in cybersecurity training — taught sessions on topics such as memory forensics and network forensics. Ben Holland, a Ph.D. candidate at Iowa State University,  has worked on projects for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He instructed students on cybersecurity program analysis. 

The training students received at this camp would cost thousands of dollars, if sought out privately. This high-quality training drew Hannah Tattan, a student in information security at Delaware Technical Community College, to this year’s camp. “I just wanted more exposure, and SANS is the best, I hear,” she says.

She particularly appreciated the instructional materials students received, which will make it simple for her to practice newly-acquired skills in the weeks to come.  

She eventually wants to work as an information technology professional, possibly for the FBI.

On the final Friday of camp, participants put their skills to work in a “Capture the Flag” competition — which is not the outdoor game you might remember from your youth. Campers worked in teams of four to detect flags — lines of questionable code and other secrets embedded in computers. Tattan’s team, which also included Delaware Technical Community College students Krystain Bates, Hanna Curran and Alex Reuben, won first place.

Friday also featured a graduation ceremony and remarks from Carper and Carney. Under the new cybersecurity initiative, a collaboration between Delaware and the SANS Institute, college students and high school students age 16 and older can learn cybersecurity skills through the free online game CyberStart.  

Other special guests included state of Delaware CSO Elayne Starkey, Susan Lausch of (ISC)², who awarded the winning CTF team educational scholarships, and U.S. Cyber Challenge National Director Karen S. Evans. U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester also sent congratulations and remarks by video.

UD’s place as a cybersecurity leader

Chase Cotton, director of UD’s cybersecurity minor and MS programs, coordinated this year’s camp.  Students got the chance to be among the first visitors to the iSuite — the 4,500-square-foot, $2-million facility opened in May that houses a virtual environment for cyber-warfare training, a collaboration hub and a project-oriented makerspace for students in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  

Students also had the opportunity to put their skills to the test, putting theory to practice. While it’s important to learn the concepts behind cybersecurity, “this business requires you to know how to do something,” says Cotton. Cotton calls UD’s approach to cybersecurity, which includes an M.S. in Cybersecurity (which can be obtained online) and a new Cybersecurity Scholars Program for undergraduates launching this fall, the “third generation of cyber education.”

Cybersecurity courses aren’t just for aspiring security professionals — they’re also useful for engineers and business leaders or anyone who may someday find their systems under attack.  “Anyone building products or services should know this landscape,” says Cotton. “It’s important that people know the business so they can ask the right questions.”

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