Cyber Fusion Explores Cybersecurity Challenges

Cadets compete in the Cyber Cup Competition during Cyber Fusion in Marshall Hall Feb. 24.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Cadets compete in the Cyber Cup Competition during Cyber Fusion in Marshall Hall Feb. 24.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

LEXINGTON, Va., March 2, 2018—Nearly 250 students and faculty members from colleges and universities across the state attended the second annual Commonwealth Cyber Fusion conference at VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics, where students competed in the Virginia Cyber Cup Competition and learned from cybersecurity experts.

Nicholas Celfo ’18, a computer and information sciences major, said he attended the conference held Feb. 23-24 for the “sheer amount of knowledge” available. “We are fortunate to have a couple events like this for cadets,” he said.

Celfo was a member of the VMI team to participate in a cyber competition during the conference. The competition used the Virginia Cyber Range software to host a “capture the flag” type race in which a team from each participating school answered a series of cybersecurity questions to progress in the competition.

George Mason University won the Virginia Cyber Cup while Virginia Tech was second and Radford University third.

Participants had the chance to meet with potential employers during two job fair sessions and an industry challenge in which students tested their skill in dealing with real-world scenarios. Employers participating in the job fair engaged with students individually and had the chance to observe their collaborative efforts throughout the conference.

Keynote speaker Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, drew on a current cybersecurity issue that dominated the news last year.

Rid detailed the “NotPetya” ransomware attack that, in his opinion, was the “most devastating and costly cyber attack.”  Just this month, the U.S. and U.K. took the step of attributing that cyber attack to Russia. The attack halted Ukrainian businesses for a day or more and impacted many other global businesses.

Rid said the malware attacked a tax software exclusive to Ukraine called MeDock and from there it spread to global companies like Merck Pharmaceuticals. 

“This is extraordinary, we had never seen anything like it. It was not just 10 percent of Ukraine, a large number of global companies were hit,” he said.

In total, the cyber attack cost billions in damage with one company, shipping giant Maersk, estimating it could cost $300 million to replace the hardware damaged by the attack.  Rid emphasized the need to consider that Russia is “playing by a different set of rules,” noting that the country is known for spreading disinformation on a strategic, societal and political level. 

“There’s the question of driving wedges. These active measures are designed to exacerbate existing cracks in our political system. We have seen this in 2016 [with the election]. They drive wedges between different parties, like [Bernie] Sanders versus [Hillary] Clinton,” he said.

Overall, the conference brought students and faculty from Virginia community colleges and universities designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Security to the Center for Leadership and Ethics.

“The feedback from the students, faculty and corporate co-hosts have been overwhelmingly positive," said Maj. Kim Connolly, assistant director for programs and conferences at the Center for Leadership and Ethics. "People praised the planning and execution of the event and the opportunities for learning plus the potential for jobs and internships for the students through the job fair."

New this year were breakout sessions hosted by experts representing tech corporations that participated in the job fair. The sessions covered such topics as the internet of things, artificial intelligence, forensics, and smart environments. 

The event was co-hosted by Sen. Mark Warner and Gov. Ralph Northam '81 with the goal of fostering excellence in the next generation of cybersecurity professionals in the state. 

-Ashlie Walter


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