ECU’s cybersecurity team places in top 5% in national competition

A team of East Carolina University students placed in the top 5% of the country during the National Cyber League cybersecurity competition that took place in November.

The event features more than 1,000 teams and 4,200 competitors, with ECU coming home in 61st place.

Team captain Vadim Komshin said the competition includes a variety of cybersecurity categories, such as forensics, password cracking, cryptography, open-source intelligence and network traffic.

Students Kenly Montes, left, and Vadim Komshin, work during a collegiate cyber defense club meeting in the Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center.

“In most cases you’re presented a file with different properties, and you are asked questions about it,” Komshin said. “Our team had a variety of different skillsets, which when combined spanned most of the categories at a pretty decent level. I believe that is what got us to do so well in the competition.”

He said that at one point in the competition ECU got as high as fourth, but with such a slim margin of error with so many teams, just one mistake can send a team tumbling down the standings.

“We just got stuck, and we couldn’t find a solution,” he said. “We were hitting roadblocks.”

Still, he said he was proud of the team for placing so high in the competition and that all the students learned some valuable lessons.

“I think we got good practice in different forms and ranges of cybersecurity,” he said. “We got more teamwork skills. Communication was a big key in how well we did.”

Team members include Komshin, Aaron Carey, James Edwards, Walt Gaylor, Justin Lopez, Benjamin Lumsden and Kenly Montes. The team meets regularly from noon to 2 p.m. Fridays in ECU’s Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center, which is Room 242 of the Science and Technology Building.

Komshin said the competition provided students some valuable lessons.

“This competition allowed us to get a grasp of different concepts in cybersecurity, and as cybersecurity is such a big field, there are a lot of different career paths you can take,” he said. “This allowed us an introduction into most of those career paths. It allowed us to kind of figure out what we want to do. They had an introduction to many of the different career roles.”

The competition took place during a 56-hour window over three days. The team competed virtually in the Cybersecurity Analysis and Action Center, which opened in 2019 with a $225,000 grant from the National Security Agency.

The center serves as a hub for the roughly 100 graduate and 500 undergraduate students in ECU’s information and cybersecurity (ICT) program. This spring, the National Security Agency redesignated ECU’s cybersecurity program as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (NCAE-CD), a designation the university has had since 2005.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth rates in cybersecurity are around 35%, with an average salary of roughly $102,600 with less than five years of experience. ECU’s ICT program is updated regularly to meet industry needs, with new course offerings in cybersecurity that include ethical hacking, intrusion detection and digital forensics.