BYU IT Team Wins Regional Cyber Defense Competition

March 6, 2016

Four women and four men from BYU’s IT program will join with 7 other elite regional collegiate teams in April in the National CCDC competition as they compete to keep some of the nation’s best hackers out of their networks.

Eight students from Brigham Young University’s Information Technology program and the BYU Cybersecurity Research Laboratory (CSRL) walked away with first place in the regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) hosted by Regis University in Denver, Colorado last weekend. The competition involved defending a city’s computer infrastructure from malicious hackers, conducting network forensics, and working with the Mayor’s office to keep critical services online - all while protecting the citizen’s private information.

The BYU team stood out in every way. "We had a gender balanced team" said Dr. Dale Rowe, BYU professor and team coach. "I’ve long believed that we need both men and women working side by side to address our cybersecurity problems. Our past competitions have shown us that having women on the team brings a unique technical perspective. We know gender diversity is critical in being able to see the bigger picture." BYU's female competitors made up 80% of all the women participants from 7 schools.

Bringing an equal number of men and women wasn’t the only thing that helped them stand out. "We have several gamers, so we designed t-shirts and hoodies pro-gamer style. When we arrived, everyone was asking about our uniforms" said Laura Wilkinson, BYU Senior and Team Captain. The clothing, and trip were paid for by generous support from CyTech Services, Inc, the BYU College of Engineering and Technology and the BYU School of Technology.

But perhaps the thing that stood out most was the team’s unity and spirit. "I thought everyone was amazing in that we communicated well and knew how to break the ice when things got rough" said Cara Cornel. "Even when we were struggling or our services started to go down, we kept our spirits up and worked together through laughter and good attitudes" added Sarah Cunha. This was noticed by the organizers and sponsors throughout the weekend as Laura notes: "Everyone continually complimented us for our entertainment value, energy, professionalism, and communication levels". Dr. Rowe added: "We had a unique opportunity to send eight of our best students and they made us proud."

Participating team members include: Laura Wilkinson (IT Senior, Team Lead), Cara Cornel (IT Junior), Jacob Crowther (IT Senior), Sarah Cunha (IT Senior), Andres Martinson (IT Senior), Jonathan Mercado (IT Graduate Student), Chandler Newby (IT Graduate Student), and Whitney Winders (IT Senior)

Background Information

The BYU Information Technology program is the designated program for BYU’s status as an NSA/DHS Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education. Security is taught across the curriculum and students receive an education in a variety of cybersecurity domains. The program has been ABET accredited since 2004.

The BYU Cybersecurity Research Laboratory is a mostly undergraduate research laboratory of 9 women and 3 men (2016) who work on a variety of research and outreach projects.

Women make up less than 20% of the cybersecurity workforce, and despite recent research reports showing the benefits of mixed cybersecurity teams, the gap between men and women in the field is widening.

Dr. Rowe is an Asst. Professor in the IT program and Director of the CSRL. He has coached CCDC teams since 2012 with his teams taking 1st place 3 times in local invitational CCDC’s and 3rd place twice in Regional CCDC’s prior to this event. Together they have published over 30 articles in peer reviewed conferences and journals across 4 continents since 2011.

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