Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Forensics Competition Challenges Student Cybersecurity Skills

on December 4, 2012

A Maryland competition seeks to recruit more soldiers for the cybersecurity war.

The first Maryland Digital Forensics Investigation Conference & Challenge last week — along with other contests including CyberPatriot, National Cyber League and the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition — are designed to give students a taste of what they might encounter on the front lines.

The United States needs to enlist more soldiers in the cybersecurity war. But over the past five years, fewer students have enrolled in subjects such as computer science that equip them for battle, said Michael Burt, professor of information and engineering technology and CyberWatch program manager at Prince George's Community College. 

"When you figure that we have a deficit of 20,000 to 30,000 security professionals in the workforce, you get kind of scared, and you want to do everything you can to help narrow that gap of lack of professionals in the cybersecurity workforce," Burt said.

In Maryland's case, Prince George's Community College combined a competition with a one-day conference and student advisory day. This way, students practiced cybersecurity, learned about it from top cybersecurity experts and met with advisors to see what education options could work for them.

"When they watch or participate in the competition, maybe it'll raise that tingle in their body that says, 'Hey, this might be what I want to do when I grow up,'" Burt said.

That tingle has been alive and well in Christopher A. Diaz Aguilar for years. The Prince George's senior has been a big technology fan since he was young. He redesigned Game Boys in his head and later rebuilt a computer to see how he could make it better.

"I got more interested in security because it's a combo of everything I've been learning in school and out of school, and I think it has everything that I want," Diaz Aguilar said.

He's the captain of a four-person team that started competing this year in Maryland's Cyber Challenge, the National Cyber League and now the Maryland Digital Forensics Investigation Challenge. In 2013, he plans to transfer to Capitol College to work on their cybersecurity program and keep practicing.

"This is a skill that you just can't stop doing it and come back and know it all," Diaz Aguilar said. "It's just something that I want to be practicing over and over again."

His team earned fifth place in the competition and communicated well, he said.

The contest challenged teams of one to four students to complete a cyber investigation in 20 minutes. They had to complete six stages of a cyber crime case investigation: legal documentation, the investigation, the crime scene, the laboratory, the digital forensic exam and the trial. 

These students came from Maryland high schools, community colleges and universities. And they weren't required to have any previous knowledge of cybersecurity.

Twenty-eight teams competed in the challenge, including 12 high school teams. Montgomery College earned the top spot overall and in the community college category. Clarksburg High School in Montgomery County Public Schools came in second overall and earned the top spot in the high school category. And the University of Maryland University College took the university category.

"I think it was a great eye-opener for both sides," Burt said. "The students got to learn a lot, but I also think that the Department of Defense folks learned a lot about what our students are exposed to in our educational system, so it was a win-win."

Diaz Aguilar learned that every aspect of the cybersecurity world works in harmony together, and it's a good idea to expose yourself to different aspects of this world for that reason.

Now that this challenge is over, the organizers plan to make it into an annual cybersecurity event.


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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.

E-mail: troscorla@centerdigitaled.com
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