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ѨƵ students prevail at US Department of Energy CyberForce Competition

The ѨƵ Cybersecurity team placed 6th in the nation out of 95 teams entered in a competition to protect the U.S. energy infrastructure.

 

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The ѨƵ CyberSec team competing at the November 2023 national CyberForce Competition in St. Charles, Illinois.

cyberforce-competitor-list.jpgAmong 95 teams from 75 colleges and universities, the ѨƵ Cybersecurity Team finished in 6th place at the sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and led by the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory. 

"I am so proud of ѨƵ CyberSec," said Professor Kenneth Atchinson, the award-winning educator who coaches ѨƵ CyberSec and teaches in ѨƵ's cybersecurity analyst program. "Our students put their skills to the test against many big-name Division One schools in cyber education and proved they can compete with the best."

Protecting critical infrastructure

The Department of Energy describes a range of goals for hosting the national competition in early November in St. Charles, Illinois, outside Chicago. The aim is "to enhance cyber operational technology education, increase awareness of the connection between critical infrastructure and cybersecurity, and provide real-world, scenario-based learning experiences."

A key for the DOE's involvement in sharpening the skills of future cyber security defenders is the growing need for professionals to protect the country's critical energy infrastructure.

"Distributed energy resources are a crucial part of our transition to a clean energy economy," said Puesh Kumar, director of CESER. "With this transition, we have a tremendous opportunity to develop a strong workforce that will keep our next generation energy systems cyber secure. This year's CyberForce Competition provides both the inspiration and hands-on experience to help develop the energy workforce of the future."

Defending a real-world scenario

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The ѨƵ CyberSec team at the national CyberForce Competition, from left to right, Professor Kenneth Atchinson, Maxwell Leezer '24, Teddy English '24, Max Micklitsch '26, Autumn Greene '25, Caleb Gindelberger '25 and Austin Schweikert '24.

Atchinson, who has mentored teams to success in a variety of "fierce" cybersecurity competitions over many years, says this test involved a real-world scenario that had students overseeing a Distributed Energy Resource (DER) management company.

 "The company manages communication between local solar energy customers and an energy generating plant," he explains. "Our students were challenged to maintain operations and service while defending and patching the systems from cyberattacks conducted by national lab and industry cyber professionals. The network included Industrial Control Systems (ICS), Linux, Windows, Active Directory and many other technologies."

ѨƵ has participated in CyberForce since fall 2018, claiming eighth place nationally in 2019 and 11th place in 2022. This summer, junior computer science major Caleb Gindelberger '25 finished in 2nd place nationally in another DOE cybersecurity competition known as "."

Preparing for employment demand

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ѨƵ and the Knowlton Center played host to nine teams from six states at the October 2023 Global Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition.

ѨƵ not only competes but also plays host as one of the premier cybersecurity players.

In October, ѨƵ played host once again to the Global Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition , which drew 70 competitors and coaches on nine teams from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, New York and Ohio.

For that Security Assessment (Pentesting) competition, students played the roles of employees at a security firm whose job was to assess the cybersecurity profile of a fictitious company. Students ran tests, hacked into systems and assessed risks imposed by the vulnerabilities they discovered. The students then wrote a report which summarized their results.

The experiential learning that is built into ѨƵ's cybersecurity program helps prepare students for an in-demand career that the U.S. Department of Labor has predicted to grow 28% over the decade leading up to 2026.

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