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Cyber Challenge tests tech-savvy students

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Published on: Friday, October 26, 2012

By Dana Amihere

Students and from across the state gathered Oct. 16-17 to test their cyber security prowess at the second annual Maryland Cyber Challenge and Competition (MDC3). Teams from both University of Maryland, College Park and Laurel’s Capitol College advanced to this year’s final rounds.

UMD Cyber Security Team 1 returned to College Park as victors. Each of the six team members will receive a $5,000 prize from the National Security Agency.

According to Marc Fruchtbaum, 23, two-time captain for Capitol College’s team Partly Cloudy, the team has come quite a long way in one year’s time.

“Last year, we were doing everything on our own We were Googling answers to problems we had in lieu of an actual coach, and were reimbursed for monies we fronted to attend MDC3,” Fruchtbaum said.

This year, the team was armed with a coach, full sponsorship and endorsement from the school, and a wide pool of fresh talent.

More widespread marketing of the school’s cyber defense teams has piqued student interest. The teams now have a record number of freshmen and sophomores.

Fruchtbaum said that interest also crosses disciplinary boundaries and attracts students from backgrounds other than the stereotypical “techies.” But at the state’s only independent college dedicated to engineering, computer sciences and information technologies, it isn’t hard to find enthusiastic team members.

Fruchtbaum credits the college’s Cyber Battle Lab as a big part of the team’s success. While it started as a room with a few old computers and servers, grant funding helped transform the space into a secure, state-of-the-art safe haven for students’ curiosity.

“Students can unleash a virus if they want to to see how it works without taking down the whole school’s network,” said Fruchtbaum, one of the lab’s initial designers and current managers. He says that competitions like MDC3 offer this same kind of hands-on learning opportunity.

The “king of the hill”-style contest challenged teams of six or fewer to gain access to as many of their opponent’s computers as possible as soon as possible while simultaneously defending the computers that are hacked.

“There are the students that just go to class, listen to lectures, get their As and Bs, and land a good job after graduation. And then there are those (students) who get involved with the team, are passionate about it and land a (high-paying) job their senior year,” Fruchtbaum said.

“These competitions mold the students who will really succeed in the future,” Fruchtbaum added.

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