ECU team competes in first CAE-NCX

A team of students from East Carolina University participated in the first Centers of Academic Excellence National Security Agency Cyber Exercise (CAE-NCX) competition.

The three-day virtual event included five modules — cryptography, malware, policy, software development and cyber combat — providing the students an all-around learning experience.

ECU students, from left, Jarred Desrosiers, Collin Roach, Hannah Graves, Colby Reeve and Cole Robinson, were among those who participated in the Centers of Academic Excellence National Security Agency Cyber Exercise in April. Other members of the team not pictured were Griffin Duck, Megan Huston, Nathaniel Johnson and Omar Murad. (Photo by Ken Buday)

“There were some modules that we knew, but there were others that we didn’t so it really made us stretch out of our comfort zones,” said Hannah Graves, the overall team captain of the group. “There was some cryptography that was very math heavy and then some software development that was computer science based, so we weren’t used to that, but that was good.”

Other members of the team included Jarred Desrosiers, Griffin Duck, Megan Huston, Nathaniel Johnson, Omar Murad, Colby Reeve, Collin Roach and Cole Robinson. All are information and computer technology majors or computer science majors.

“We had one of the more difficult modules,” said Desrosiers, who was team captain of the software development module. “It required a lot of knowledge, so if you were a senior or graduate student, you probably knew a lot of it, but if you were like a sophomore, you probably didn’t know as much.”

The policy portion of the event also provided a new test for the team.

“We had to craft a public speech to the president as if we were the joint cyber task force,” Roach said. “We had to base it on all of our research. It was sort of a play on the (gas) pipeline breach last year, so it was built off something that happened in the real world.”

Robinson served as team captain for the cyber combat exercise.

“It was a cool mix of cyber combat,” he said. “The attack/defense was extremely hard, but we had some fun when we got to attack another team and we were sending them messages.”

The inaugural NSA cybersecurity exercise is an advanced level competition for institutions designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence (NCAE-C). As a NCAE-C institution, East Carolina University was one of 375 designated institutions eligible to compete in the event.

“It is great knowing we were one of the first teams to go to the event, and it will help us better prepare for the next one,” Reeve said.

Dr. Philip Lunsford, associate professor in the Department of Technology Systems who served as faculty coach, credited the students for their efforts.

“This group is really good with motivation and leadership,” he said. “The older students will help the younger students and serve as mentors to them. We even had some alumni who communicated with us to help.”

The event was designed to develop and test cybersecurity skills, teamwork, planning, communication and decision-making. Students gained a deeper understanding of the current threat environment and learned new techniques and tools.