WVU Students Prepare for Cyberspace Attacks with Operation Locked Shields | Today

Jack Lizmi and Heather Fetty are participating in Operation Locked Shields exercises from April 19-21.
(WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)

Armed with keyboards, ones and zeros, a team of West Virginia University students were among 2,000 participants who took part in Operation Locked Shields, an international cyber defense exercise hosted by the Center for NATO Cooperative Cyber ​​Defense Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. The teams, which included members of the West Virginia and North Carolina National Guard, received orders from the Department of Defense and the Defense Information Systems Agency during the April 19-21 drills.

As part of the US Blue Team, engineering, cybersecurity, media, and law students honed their skills in defending national computer systems and critical infrastructure that suffered fewer than 7,000 real-time attacks.

“The live-fire exercise gave our students the opportunity to see what it’s like to defend against a large-scale, coordinated cybersecurity attack,” said Christopher Ramezan, assistant professor of cybersecurity. “Not only do they get that experience, but they also get the chance to work with some of our nation’s top cybersecurity experts and network with DoD public sector leaders and private sector experts as well,”

Ramezan said students honed their skills for the event through hands-on lab exercises, exposing them to a variety of techniques and technologies that prepare them for the job market.

“What we really emphasize is ingenuity, innovative thinking and problem solving,” added Ramezan.

Even with the preparation to assume the role of national rapid cyber response teams deployed to help a fictional country manage a large-scale cyber incident, Locked Shields proved to be a unique challenge for the students.

Deacon Barbazette, a management information systems specialist from John Chambers College of Business and Economics, emphasized the importance of teamwork and practice during the exercise.

“I’ve learned that it’s very important to leave your ego at the door when participating in Locked Shield,” Barbazette said. “The ability to listen and learn from others is very important. Heading into the final event, I still felt very overwhelmed, but the ability to rely on my team and people much smarter than me took a lot of the stress off.

Despite the difficult tasks they faced during the exercise, the students acquired new knowledge on how to approach complex problems.

“I led a team of people during the exercise, which comes with a lot of different challenges in terms of communication, giving everyone the right tools for the job and making sure people get the help they need,” said Jonathan Malcomb, a computer science student. of the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, said.

Abigail Riggs, a Reed College of Media student and public relations specialist, said she learned how much there is variation in the way crisis communication is handled from country to country.

“It was an eye-opening part of the operation that reminded me how important it is to understand your audience when communicating during a crisis,” Riggs said.

In addition to professional development, Locked Shields, an annual event since 2010, provides students with a wealth of connections in the cyber defense industry as they work alongside NASA employees and special forces operators, including members of the Defense Information Systems Agency, Army Corps of Engineers, Financial Services and Information Sharing and Analysis Center, US Treasury and Bank of America.

Exercise participants were scored on how well they protected their networks while following established rules of engagement for gameplay.

“We have tremendous talent at WVU and West Virginia, so having the chance to showcase our students’ talents on an international stage helps show our abilities to the world and puts West Virginia on the map,” Ramezan said. . “I think it fits perfectly with our land-grant mission.”

This was the University’s second year of participation in Locked Shields, which helped create a partnership with the US Cyber ​​Command Academic Engagement Network. Today, WVU is one of 84 educational institutions that will work closely with CYBERCOM, where students engage in applied research and innovation while gaining valuable workforce education. in cybersecurity.



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