Friday, July 27, 2012

Mt. SAC: National Cyber League Champions


Mt. SAC Cyber Defense TeamIn June Mt. San Antonio College's cyber team beat DePaul University to become the first national champions of the newly formed National Cyber League.
The inaugural NCL season included 26 schools competing in three conferences, leading to a playoff between the top four schools, and culminating in the championship competition held in Orlando, Florida.
The 2012 Mt. SAC cyber team was composed of eight Computer Information Systems students coached by Mt. SAC CIS instructor Jim Gau. "It was a great pleasure working with these outstanding CIS students," Gau said, describing the team members as diligent and hard working. "Obviously winning the championship was a great accomplishment, but what impressed me the most was the team's ability to react to the dynamic nature of the scenarios."
The cyber team's performance in the championship was exemplary. In a head-to-head, "capture-the-flag" style competition Mt. SAC captured 16 of DePaul's 25 "flags"—digital artifacts of a sensitive nature—while DePaul was unable to capture even one of Mt. SAC's flag, the equivalent of a cyber shut out.
According to Gau the foundation of the team's training was the curriculum of the Computer Network Administration and Security Management AS degree offered by Mt. SAC. The CNASM degree has been recognized by the National Security Agency and the Committee on National Security Systems as meeting "the required training for network security professionals who assist federal agencies and private sector entities to protect their information and aid in the defense of the nation's vital information resources."
The Mt. SAC Cyber Defense Team (from left to right): Lam Cun, Yinfeng Cai, Philip Weniger, Jimmy Tu, Ray Wu, Chris Nila, Brian Baligad, Robert Murray, and Professor Jim Gau,
Preparation was also key to the team's success, Gau said, as the participants knew in advance which hardware, networks and configurations would be in place for the competition. This allowed the team to spend time preparing its initial strategy.
The National Cyber LeagueOnce the National Cyber League competitions begin though, the students are placed into a dynamic scenario where a system has been compromised. Gau said that the format forces the students to think like the attackers, predict timelines, and rely on forensic tools and network analysis to understand how attacks are unfolding and how to protect against them.
This was most intense at the playoff and championship levels when teams were required to play offense and defense at the same time.
"Once the competition started, our students remained focused as one team, one unit, almost as one person," Gau said. "This was when their level of commitment to learning network security was most evident. Participating in the event brings new insight into the process and helps improve everyone's skills.
And ratcheting up security awareness and management skills is what the National Cyber League is all about.
The 2012 season was the inaugural season for the league, referred to as the pilot season on the NCL website. The NCL is divided into three conferences: Western, Midwestern, and Eastern. The regular season commenced the week of April 20 and wrapped the week of May 19 and consisted of four weekly exercises which took on average about four-five hours to complete. Regular season competition was regional.
National Cyber League Conferences: Western, Mid-Western, and Eastern.While approximately 30 schools participated in the regular season, only the top four performers—one from each conference and one wild card—advanced to the playoff. The four teams that competed in the May 26 playoff included the following.
  • 1st place overall: Midwestern Conference Champion: DePaul University (IL)
  • 2nd place overall: Western Conference Champion: Mt. San Antonio College (CA)
  • 3rd place overall: Eastern Conference Champion: University of Maryland Baltimore County (MD)
  • Wild Card Team: California State University, Northridge (CA)
The championship itself was a full eight-hour exercise and when the digital dust cleared, Mt. SAC reigned as the 2012 champion.
NCL Championship Bracket; June 10, 2012; Orlando, FloridaGau had nothing but positive things to say about the NCL and the experience of competing. "Overall the experience was very interesting and very challenging, and all of the participants were highly motivated. Winning feels great; everyone knows that. But everyone that participated learned something, everyone benefits from the experience."
He lauded DePaul as a passionate and very respectable opponent. He also commended the way that Mt. SAC rallied behind its cyber team, especially the CIS department, the business division, and CyberWatch West, which is a founding member of the National Cyber League.
CyberWatch WestAccording to its website, "CyberWatch West is the only National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education center dedicated to cybersecurity in the western region of the United States. It offers the most current cybersecurity in the form of educational partnerships, business indestry partnerships, and professional and student development programs and events." Mt. SAC is the CyberWatch West lead institution and the center is housed on its campus. It's stated main objective is to build a successful cybersecurity workforce in the western United States.<>
To review the detailed standings of the entire 2012 pilot season of the National Cyber League visit:
To learn more about the National Cyber League visit its website at:
To learn more about the CyberWatch West visit its website at:
To learn more about the Computer Network Administration and Security Management AS Degree visit the Mt. SAC CIS Associate of Science Degrees webpage at:

Sandoval Chagoya is the TechEDge Managing Editor and a Project Manager for the
California Community Colleges Technology Center and the California Virtual Campus.

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