BISMARCK, N.D. — A complement of cyber security trainers and advisors, including members of the North Dakota National Guard, recently helped prepare a team of North Dakota students for participation in the North Central Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC). This was the first time a team from North Dakota has entered the annual event, which took place March 23-24 in Madison, South Dakota.
According to its website, the CCDC is an event that "focuses on the operational aspect of managing, securing and defending a 'commercial' network infrastructure. Students get a chance to test their knowledge by building, protecting and maintaining a realistic network and operations environment."
The idea for preparing a North Dakota team was suggested by Col. Ray Knutson, the North Dakota National Guard's chief information officer. Knutson, whose job includes overseeing network security operations for his organization, attended a past CCDC and saw an opportunity for local cyber security students to gain additional experience in their chosen field of study.
"As I learned more about the competition and the value it provides students, it was clear that we needed to get students involved," he said.
Last year, Knutson reached out to university, business and cyber defense professionals throughout the state to gauge their interest in sending teams to the competition. Both Bismarck State College and University of Mary were eager to participate, and together formed a joint team of students. Knutson, along with Nick See and Matt Frohlich, of Bismarck State College, and Dr. Kevin Fishbeck, from the University of Mary, volunteered to be team advisors.
In addition to the Bismarck State College and University of Mary instructors, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chandler Raab, a system administrator for the North Dakota National Guard; Jason Wald, of Basin Electric Power Cooperative; and Tony Aukland and Lucas Pippenger, from North Dakota's Information Technology Department helped prepare the students for the CCDC.
To prepare for the competition, the students met weekly with the team of advisors, where they were given instruction on a variety of topics to include Microsoft Windows server and client administration, Linux server administration, firewall administration and internet web services administration. Students were also presented a class on cyber incident response best business practices.
At the competition, North Dakota's team was tasked with providing cyber security for a fictitious hospital while a team of hackers tried to penetrate their network security.
"Overcoming the apprehension from the students, who felt they weren't ready for this, was one of the most challenging aspects of getting the students to commit to the competition," Frohlich said.
Fishbeck said the students saw things at the competition not usually seen in their college classrooms. At the CCDC, the team was exposed to scenarios they'll likely encounter within their field while in the workforce.
"There were real-life, no-holds-barred security breaching attempts, which provided tremendous hands-on experience," he said.
Tanya Taplin, a team member from the University of Mary, said despite her team's nerves, the students learned and gained experience at the CCDC while having fun. What they didn't expect was the team to take third place overall at the event.
"It feels really good to come in third place," Taplin said. "We had a really good first day, but struggled a little more on day two. We all were assigned specific roles, but were able to work as a team and move around and help as needed. It will be exciting to go back and tell other students that if we can do it, they can be successful, as well."
Knutson said participating as advisors for the CCDC was invaluable for his staff. It helped strengthen current relationships with other agencies, which will benefit his organization as a whole.
"The North Dakota National Guard recently added several cyber security positions in support of the Department of Defense's cyberspace forces," he said. "Our mission is to help defend critical military and government computer network infrastructure. As we continue to determine exactly how our National Guard cyber resources will play a role within the state of North Dakota, we must prepare for the possibility of a cyber security emergency. It is vital we build relationships with our public, private and educational institutions to aid programs and individuals that could potentially impact and contribute to our efforts. Competitions like this are a great starting point."
The North Dakota National Guard is a trained and highly motivated force of about 4,000 Citizen-Soldiers and Citizen-Airmen. We are always prepared to provide ready units, individuals and equipment in support of our communities, state and nation. Always ready, always there.