Air Force cadets earning honors as academic hackers
- By William Jackson
- Oct 04, 2013
The Air Force Academy’s Cyber Competition Team has for the third year in a row earned a finalist spot in an international cybersecurity contest hosted by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, placing 10th among 349 teams.
The result continues a record of high finishes in academic hacking competitions for the team. During the 2012-2013 academic year, it placed first in the qualifying round of the NYU Poly competition and fifth in the finals, and won the NSA Cyber Defense Exercise. The team finished in the top 20 percent in 13 of 14 competitions that year.
“I put our cadets up against graduate students and industry professionals, and we typically score in the top 10 or 15 percent,” said Dr. Martin Carlisle, directory of the academy’s Center for Cybersecurity Research, who coaches the team. “The one thing we have going for us is the discipline of the students. They are very motivated. They like to win.”
The team will travel to New York to compete in finals on the NYU Poly Brooklyn campus in November.
First place in the qualifying round was taken by a combined team from Northeastern University and the University of California Santa Barbara. The Army and Navy service academies also competed, finishing 15th and 65th, respectively.
Competitions have emerged in the last 10 years as a tool for developing a professional cybersecurity workforce. Manpower has been identified as a primary challenge in cybersecurity. The government, including the military, is struggling to protect its own networks as well as help defend privately owned critical infrastructure. New operations such as the U.S. Cyber Command are increasing demand for professionals and a number of universities are responding with new or expanded computer security programs.
The Cyber Security Awareness Week competitions are in their 10th year at NYU Poly. This year’s qualifying round lasted for 72 hours from Sept. 19 to Sept. 22, with teams — most, like the Air Force Academy, participating remotely — competing for points by selecting challenges, completing tasks and submitting results to judges at the school. Challenges ranged from answering questions to reverse-engineering software and taking offensive or defensive actions in a targeted network or website.
“It’s focused on doing things as opposed to merely memorizing facts,” Carlisle said. “The challenges are fairly advanced and require thinking outside the box.”
He called the competition a realistic test for skills needed in a real-world work environment. Their worth is illustrated by the students’ success, he said. “People in the top ranks of the Air Force have heard of us. The success of our students after they graduate suggests we are doing something right here.”
Competing on the academy team were cadets 1st class Ryan Zacher (team captain), Chase King, Sam Kiekhaefer, Keane Lucas, Ray Sou, and Chad Speer; cadets 2nd class Matt Aust, Kevin Cooper, Zach Madison, and William Parks; and cadets 3rd class CJ Edwards, Justin Niquette, and Eric Wardner.
William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.