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Cyber 9/12 Student Competition: Preparing the Next Generation of Cyber Experts

This article was originally posted by our sister blog, In Homeland Security

By Glynn Cosker, Managing Editor, In Homeland Security

More than 200 students from 40 colleges and universities are participating today in the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge at American University in Washington, D.C. The annual competition is sponsored by Atlantic Council.

American Military University (AMU) is one of the schools taking part in the two-day competition where cybersecurity and intelligence studies students offer their written and oral recommendations on how to deal with a pseudo-cyberattack. Other universities taking part in the competition include Texas A&M, Georgetown University, Brown University, Duke University, Harvard University, Purdue University, Stanford University and the U.S. Naval Academy. AMU is the only 100-percent online university to compete in the contest.

“It’s exciting to be here and to see the enthusiasm on show from our students,” stated Mark Riccardi, Dean of AMU’s School of Security and Global Studies.

A Cyberattack is Underway – Go Brief the President

The premise offered to all the teams at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge is that the President of the United States has asked the National Cybersecurity Directorate to brief him or her on how to counter a crippling cyberattack that is likely to affect national security. Each team is asked to provide their detailed responses to the would-be attack. Essentially, each team is playing the role of the National Cybersecurity Directorate and must act as if they were briefing the president on how to proceed.

AMU’s team – Team Cyber Aegis – is comprised of undergraduate students Jose Alvarez and Luke Alsip – alongside graduate students Matthew Gulino and Jonathon Creekmore; their coach at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge is Professor Dr. Yvette Aguiar.

AMU’s Team Cyber Aegis, from left: Luke Alsip, Jonathon Creekmore, Jose Alvarez, AMU Professor Dr. Yvette Aguiar, Mark Riccardi (Dean of AMU’s School of Security and Global Studies), and Matthew Gulino. Credit: AMU.

“It’s amazing to see how profoundly engaged these students are in addressing this scenario and working together to develop the most sound recommendations,” stated Dr. Aguiar to In Homeland Security’s sister blog, In Public Safety. “They’ve spent a tremendous amount of time communicating and addressing all the ‘what ifs’ and possible responses to the attack.”

As the only 100-percent online school in attendance, AMU’s preparation process for the competition was unique. Obviously, personally meeting in a brick-and-mortar classroom was not possible, and – in fact – the students and their professor met for the first time in person only hours before the competition. Up to that point, each of them relied on video chat, Google Hangouts, Google Drive and other interactive and social media platforms to communicate and fine-tune their analysis and to present their ideas and solutions.

“The team was very flexible and we all worked together very well,” stated Gulino who is pursuing a master’s degree in Intelligence Studies at AMU. “I’ve learned a lot about collaboration during this process … I can take the knowledge and skills I’ve learned during this competition and apply them to future endeavors.”

Alvarez is a cybersecurity student at AMU. “This was a big learning experience,” he said. “I would highly recommend that other students at AMU attempt this challenge, because it will teach them– not only how to work with people at a distance – but also how to think strategically, operationally and tactically within the realm of cyberspace.”

AMU students share a light moment at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge. Credit: AMU.
AMU students share a light moment at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge. Credit: AMU.

Alsip is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Intelligence Studies with a concentration in counter-intelligence. “I’ve learned a lot here,” he said. “This competition gives me the opportunity to explore other career options down the line one day.”

Creekmore, currently seeking a master’s degree in Cybersecurity Studies at AMU said “Cybersecurity is integrated into nearly every single industry today, and not being aware of it – or not having any education behind it –  is going to hurt you instead of help you.”

Military, Government and Private-Sector Experts Judge Competition

Prior to the competition start date, each college or university was provided with a bare-bones report that outlined the cyberattack and its implications, and each team was required to submit a written response providing countermeasures and recommendations for the panel of expert judges. The preliminary process took five weeks, including some long hours and late nights for AMU’s Team Cyber Aegis. Today, each team presents their oral dissertation and will answer a series of questions from the judges.

[Related Article: AMU Students Prepare for Cyber Crisis Competition in D.C.]

The full panel of 40 judges includes experts from the U.S. Department of Justice, NATO, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Defense – as well as private sector corporations including FusionX, Mitre Corporation, FireEye and Symantec. The judges use five criteria in their decision-making process:

  • Understanding of Cyber Policy
  • Identification of Key Issues
  • Analysis of Policy Response Alternatives
  • Structure and Organization
  • Originality and Creativity

AMU’s Team Cyber Aegis presented its oral presentation at 11:20 a.m. to a slate of four judges and then answered pointed questions from the panel. Morale was high from students and professor alike as they exited the room.

With the written and oral presentations completed, each team at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge will discover Friday night if they are to move onto the semi-final round. Finalists, and an overall winning team, will be announced on Saturday after Day 2 of the competition. Discretionary awards will also be awarded by the judges. Stay tuned. You can also follow the action on Twitter by searching the hashtag #Cyber912.


Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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