For the tenth consecutive year, the Southeast Missouri State Cyber Defense Team has won the Missouri Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC).
The Southeast Cyber Defense Team competed against 14 other Missouri teams in the Feb. 19 CCDC. During the virtual competition, the team was put into a semi-realistic scenario where they were tasked with defending a network from active threats and attacks while performing information technology tasks.
“Having ten straight wins speaks to the strength of the team through the years as well as the strength of our foundation,” said team captain Jennifer Tenholder. “The success of our team this year can be attributed to the efforts of every single member of the team. I have never met a group of people more dedicated and passionate about what they are doing. I am honored to have been able to represent this team as captain, but I would be nothing without them.”
Dr. Mario Alberto Garcia, director of the University’s Institute for Cybersecurity and the team’s advisor, said the ten-year winning streak is a demonstration of the quality of Southeast students and faculty.
The 10-time winning streak of the team also demonstrates the excellence of Southeast’s cybersecurity and computer science programs, including its Institute for Cybersecurity and fully functioning Cyber Range. Southeast is officially designated by the state of Missouri as an institution of higher education with a statewide mission in the areas of computer science and cybersecurity.
“We are extremely proud of the sustained accomplishments of the Cyber Defense team,” Garcia said. “Team members have been working very hard to prepare for the competition. The team practices three times a week, and all the logistics, practice plans and practice drills are created by team members. It is impressive to see their hard work and motivation.”
Southeast students who competed in the Missouri CCDC were:
- Jared Bowman, senior cybersecurity major with a minor in computer networking from Troy, Mo.
- Grant Buchheit, junior cybersecurity major with a minor in computer networking from St. Charles, Mo.
- Weston Cottrell, junior cybersecurity major from Fairbury, Ill.
- Stephen Gullette, senior cybersecurity major from Cape Girardeau, Mo.
- Elijah Iverson, junior cybersecurity major with a minor in computer networking from Bloomington, Ill.
- Ethan Jett, sophomore cybersecurity major from Bloomington
- Suzie Luehmann, sophomore cybersecurity major from Granite City, Ill.
- Luke Skaggs, senior cybersecurity major with a minor in computer science from Festus, Mo.
- Jennifer Tenholder, senior cybersecurity major with minors in computer networking and computer science from Florissant, Mo.
- Grant Trowbridge, senior cybersecurity major from Ten Mile, Tenn.
- Karl Trowbridge, sophomore cybersecurity major from Ten Mile
- Isaac Wilson, senior computer science major from Malden, Mo.
The team’s legacy has helped laid a foundation of success that her and her team members continue to build each year, said Tenholder, who has been on the team for three years.
“A lot of the knowledge needed to compete is passed down each year, so if we had not had such phenomenal team captains in the past, we would not have been able to maintain this winning streak,” she said. “I am honored to be the captain that led the team to their tenth consecutive win, but I could not have done it without all the time and dedication of the previous captains”
One of the things that sets this year’s team apart is how easily we work together, said Tenholder, especially with six out of the 12 team members being new this year.
“Everyone on the team was selected based on not only their technological expertise, but also because of their eagerness to learn so if any team member was ever working on something new, there were always members asking them questions, giving them advice, etc.,” she said.
Since September 2021, the team has developed the skills imperative for competition, including machine hardening (configuring firewalls, disabling scheduled tasks, killing unused processes) completing possible inject tasks that could be assigned while in the midst of competing.
While the Missouri CCDC competition format has remained relatively the same, this year’s team decided to bring a new skillset to the competition and utilized “scripting” -- a type of computer program that is comprised of a sequence of instructions that are performed when the script is executed.
The team used scripts for automating machine set up, Tenholder said.
“When the competition starts, we are given poorly configured machines and we must implement the proper features to provide the best possible security. This involves configuring firewalls, identifying unused processes, disabling unused user accounts, etc.,” she said. “All these tasks in total take around ten minutes to configure when done by hand, which may not seem like a lot, but could make a significant difference. Without having to go through the extensive configuration process by hand, team members are free to be working on other things which will likely be required later in the competition. In addition, scripts also provide an additional layer of security. During the configuration process, our network is unprotected, and someone could potentially access our system and cause considerable damage. With the use of a script, most of these things can be configured within minutes so it reduces the window an attacker could potentially get in.”
For Tenholder, being a member for two years and a captain for one, having three wins on the Cyber Defense Team speaks to Southeast’s “Will to do” motto.
“The team had such a powerful reputation, and hearing about the things they got to do made me want to get involved in any way possible,” she said. “I started as an observer, which is not an actual competitive team member but rather someone who goes to practice, watches what the team does and learns. At the time, I remember feeling overwhelmed by everything and thinking that I would never be good enough to compete on the competitive team, but I kept going to practice and kept learning. The rest is history.”
Southeast’s Cyber Defense Team will now advance to the Erich J. Spenger Midwest Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition March 18 where they will compete against elite institutions from across the Midwest.