June 23, 2018
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UM cybersecurity team 2nd in regional contest

By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — Some of the computers were hacked at the same moment users logged on, and other hackers were stealing data within a minute during the 2010 Northeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition held at the University of Maine.

The annual three-day competition is designed to test the skills of computer science and information technology students in preventing hackers from getting into computer systems.

Advancements in technology have made it easier to move information and do things such as pay for items, but they also have opened a gaping hole in cybersecurity that hackers can use, said Joe Fasulo, UM computer science junior and cybersecurity team captain.

“It’s a very real threat,” he said.

It’s for that reason that future cybersecurity experts must be trained, said George Markowsky, chairman of UM’s computer science department. The competition, which attracted nine schools from New York north, is a great way to provide experience to students in the ever-changing and fast-paced field, he said.

The competition began Friday and included 5½ hours of competition that day, followed by nine hours on Saturday and another three hours on Sunday. In the competition, a fake enterprise was created for each school, and then a team of hackers, or individuals skilled in cyberattack, attacked them.

“Their task is to create as much havoc as possible,” Markowsky said in a statement.

The team from Northeastern University in Boston took first place and earned the right to participate in the 2010 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in San Antonio, Texas, April 16-18.

UMaine’s team took second in the regional competition. The group, which included eight computer science majors and a student studying information technology, has improved greatly in the past year, said team coach Larry Whitsel, a computer science instructor.

“They really were self-motivated and worked hard,” he said.

UM’s team came in fifth during the competition last year, “but we weren’t really even close,” Whitsel said.

Nicholas Percoco, senior vice president of SpiderLabs at Trustwave, gave the keynote address, which focused on an analysis of cybersecurity incidents investigated by his company in 2009.

“One of the surprising things we found is hackers got an average 156 days before detection,” he said.

The analysis showed users are not proactive in protecting and updating their cybersecurity systems, and nearly half of the data breaches involved remote access, Percoco said.

There are a number of steps that people can take to protect systems, and two basics are to “back up your work often, and do routine scans,” said senior Chris Battista, a UM information system engineer.

In addition to Fasulo and Batista, the UM team included Lucas Wood, sophomore; Sean Edwards, freshman; Ed Ropple, senior; Avner Maiberg, junior; Emma Strubell, sophomore; and Travis Christianson, senior.

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