Penn State takes first place at national cyber threat competition

Alyssa Inman
December 02, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four students from Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) recently took home first place at the third annual Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition. The competition, held Nov. 11 and 12 in Westlake, Texas, consisted of two rounds designed to help students develop the skills needed to tackle increasingly complicated cyber risks.

George Beatty, Michael Morelli, Kevin Houk, and Michael Lubas won $2,000 each for presenting the best analysis and incident response to a simulated cyberattack during the competition. This analysis and response boosted their group to the top of the list of 15 universities that participated in the cyber wargame designed to cultivate the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

Three of the team members are a part of Penn State’s Competitive Cyber Security Organization (CCSO), a group of IST students that educates members on current cybersecurity methods and teaches them to master safe computing practices, while regularly competing in cyber challenges throughout the school year.

The tasks called for logic, creativity, and problem-solving skills in the face of real-world cyber challenges. The final round found the team working as consultants for a major bank that was hacked. The teams were challenged with different scenarios where they had to identify the cyber threat and then present their unique solution to a panel of Deloitte judges.

Morelli, a senior Security and Risk Analysis (SRA) major and vice president of the CCSO, said the challenge that stood out the most is when they were given five minutes to prepare for a simulated crisis meeting with the “head of a major bank.” To add realism, the fictional chief information officer asked for immediate recommendations for how to proceed during the simulated attack.

“Things like that happen all the time in the real world, so it was a very real situation," Morelli said. "But we took the incident and made it into a presentation that was actionable."

When the challenge was completed, the team was able to stabilize the bank’s site and enact new security protocols to ward against future attacks.

“Penn State prepared us very well in the sense of thinking like an analyst while also having the technical skills,” Morelli said.

The Deloitte Foundation supports education in the U.S. through a variety of initiatives that help develop the talent of the future and their influencers and promote excellence in teaching, research, and curriculum innovation. Their cyber risk services work with clients worldwide to better cybersecurity investments with strategic business priorities, establish improved threat awareness and visibility, and strengthen the ability of organizations to thrive in the face of cyber incidents.

“We are encouraged that our Cyber Threat Competition is attracting high-performing students with a strong foundation of the STEM skills needed to develop a talented and deep pool of cybersecurity professionals,” said Tonie Leatherberry, Deloitte Foundation president.

Kevin Houk, a senior SRA major and president of the CCSO, said that these competitions are a great way to apply what is learned in the classroom to the real world.

“This is a way of bridging the gap to get students learning on their own,” said Houk, adding, “[At the competition] it’s like everyone has to mesh together to win. It’s not enough to skate by in the classroom and expect to waltz into a job."

The organization plans to compete in the National Cyber League Competition, Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition, and the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in the coming months.

“Next year when we come back, people are going to be like ‘watch out for Penn State,’ and that’s exactly what we wanted,” Morelli said.

  • Kevin Houk, Michael Morelli, George Beatty and Michael Lubas with their prize from the third annual Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition.

    The Penn State team of George Beatty, Michael Morelli, Kevin Houk, and Michael Lubas won $2,000 each for presenting the best analysis and incident response to a simulated cyberattack during the third annual Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition in Westlake, Texas.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated December 06, 2016