President of the JMU Cyber Defense club Wes Malinchock logs into a Windows Computer. His recycling bin is full, and a message pops up asking if he’d like to empty it. He presses cancel, but the teammate next to him clicks yes. Immediately, malware and viruses seep in. Within the first minute of the competition, the computer is hacked. Detecting and responding to outside threats better than the other teams is the top priority.
In the Cyber Defense club, members learn about information security techniques that help them compete in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition and National Cyber League. CCDC tests the students’ ability to defend their systems against live hackers. Malinchock, a senior computer science major who’s been in the club for four years, leads weekly meetings, signs up for competitions and competes with his fellow students in CCDC.
“The whole thing is very suspenseful,” Malinchock said. “It’s a five-hour long competition where you’re on edge because you’re actively under attack at all times.”
Professor of computer science and co-advisor to the Cyber Defense club Brett Tjaden received an invitation to the first CCDC in 2004. He put together a team of four students, and then, saw an opportunity for a new club at JMU.
“A lot of the competitions are about defending your network and machines against attackers,” Tjaden said. “We talk a lot about the standard types of things that the students should be doing to defend the machines, to detect when there are problems on their machines and to remedy those problems when the attackers inevitably do get in.”
National Cyber League is a competition that consists of training exercises and is considered a capture-the-flag competition that focuses on hacking rather than defense. The students are given a program that has value, and they must analyze code to get the program to run as it’s supposed to. The students receive points for each successful challenge.
Tjaden takes a bystander approach, diligently watching the students compete as they accomplish the goal of keeping things running no matter what’s going on. He analyzes what the students are excelling at and what they need to work on more.
“We have run hospitals, transit systems and power generation plants, and all kinds of things,” Tjaden said. “If you have the attackers able to cause problems, then there are real world implications to that. Trains stop moving, power doesn’t get to houses, in the hospitals — people die.”
There are around 30 people in the club with 15-20 showing up for the weekly Friday meetings, according to Malinchock. Sophomore computer science major Andy Malone has been in the club for two years.
“I went into the club my freshman year, and I didn’t really know anything about cyber defense,” Malone said. “But in the last few years through all of the talks and competitions I’ve been a part of, it really helps you build a base that you can apply during your classes and link to other things you’ve seen online.”
The club had a CCDC competition Feb. 16 where it placed first in its heat. The club also placed third out of 17 colleges at the Virginia Cyber Cup Competition on Feb. 22-23 at VMI. The club is currently preparing for a NCL competition on April 12. Tjaden has been proud of the growth of the club, and welcomes all students to see what cyber defense is about.
“You don’t need any experience,” Tjaden said. “Anyone can come to the meetings, and that’s the best way to get started, is to just show up. We always have beginners at the meeting as well as seasoned cyber defense club members who have been to the competitions.”
Contact Mitchell Sasser at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.