UMD Cybersecurity Club Wins National Competition

A team of five undergraduate students from the University of Maryland Cybersecurity Club recently won a national competition that required teams to solve hands-on, real-world challenges involving computer security.

The students—Michael Bailey, Josh Fleming, Peter Heppenstall, Michael Reininger, and Omer Yampel—competed against 188 other collegiate teams in the sixth annual Capture the Flag (CTF) competition, sponsored by MITRE and its partners.

All of the Maryland students except Fleming are majoring in computer science and are in their junior year. Fleming is a junior majoring in computer engineering.

More than 500 teams overall—a mix of high school, college-level, and industry professionals—competed in the contest, which involved breaking cryptographic schemes, discovering and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer code, analyzing malicious traffic, recovering corrupted data, performing memory forensics, discovering and leveraging vulnerabilities in websites, and more.

Heppenstall, the cybersecurity club’s vice president and team leader for the competition, says all of the teams participating were given the same set of challenges to solve, but were divided into different divisions based on their educational level or professional status.

The University of Maryland team had the highest score across all three divisions, notes Heppenstall.

“We nearly doubled the top score from the professional division, which we’re really proud of,” he says.

MITRE and its sponsors annually host the national CTF competition, with notable industry and academic partners helping design the security challenges.

Heppenstall calls the contest, which lasted 24 hours, “challenging yet rewarding.”

“The competition requires you to demonstrate not only what you understand and can implement beforehand, but also what you can learn in a limited time frame,” he says. “Competitions like these are invaluable in helping introduce critical cybersecurity concepts early on, and in motivating students to learn on their own.”

Maryland Cybersecurity Center Director Jonathan Katz, who also serves as the club’s adviser, says he is proud of the students.

“Our undergraduate students are simply fantastic,” says Katz. “As the contest results demonstrate, they rank amongst the best in the country in this field.”

The University of Maryland Cybersecurity Club is a student-run organization based in the computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments. Its main purpose is to develop and encourage cybersecurity awareness and to improve students’ proficiency in the cybersecurity domain.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld

Published October 18, 2017