Wired for Opportunity, Vulnerable to Deep Risk: students and professionals unite to secure cyber space

Polytechnic Institute of NYU swelled with activity on October 14 as students from across the country donning yellow shirts turned the Brooklyn campus into a golden arena for the fifth annual Cyber Security Awareness Week’s culminating events.

The student-run program, which many refer to simply as “CSAW,” has fast become the nation’s preeminent forum for advancing the cyber-security community’s dialogue on critical issues as it links industry, higher education, and passionate young students. CSAW centers on pitting emerging cyber-security thinkers against one another in seven competitions that address pressing security topics in areas like embedded systems and forensics.

Critical challenges
With the Internet’s exponential growth and our widespread cultural dependence on it, vast opportunity has been met with deep risk. Governments, businesses, and individuals alike are faced with an unprecedented need to secure and protect privacy, information, and resources.

Meeting this challenge requires a new generation of exceptional young minds. The task of educating this generation rests largely on the shoulders of technologically-driven colleges and universities like NYU-Poly. Enter CSAW, the brainchild of Professor Nasir Memon, director of the National Science Foundation-funded Information Systems and Internet Security (ISIS) Lab. Professor Memon designed the program as a way to draw together the best and brightest minds in information security.

Healthy competition
Teams of participants describing their research and attempts to outwit their peers greeted students and visitors as they passed through NYU-Poly’s corridors during the day-long awards event. NYU-Poly’s contestants fared well, earning several honors against competitors from Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Cooper Union, University of Illinois, University of Texas, and many more leading schools. (Visit the CSAW 2008 website’s individual competition pages for lists of winners.)

This year’s judges included such prominent industry leaders as Robert Hoffman (Idaho National Laboratory), Lenny Zeltser (SANS Internet Storm Center), Dr. Dave Shaver (MIT Lincoln Lab), Keith O’Brien (Cisco Systems), Chester Maciag (Air Force Research Lab), and Richard M. Bejtlich (General Electric).

Raising consciousness
Each year CSAW invites some of cyber security’s most progressive thinkers to offer their thoughts on the state of the industry. In the past, NYU-Poly has heard from such notable technologists as Edward G. Amoroso, chief security officer, AT&T. This year, Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, joined CSAW to discuss the largest threats to global information security.

While the picture Mr. Paller painted was often bleak — the FBI reports more than one cyber extortion case each day, over 25% of all web applications face serious security problems, and the vast majority of code is simply not written securely — it revealed a remarkable opportunity for NYU-Poly students, who can satisfy a demonstrated and growing demand for information security specialists. Mr. Paller’s presentation made it abundantly clear that the very skills, expertise, and energy that students at NYU-Poly offer will continue to be of the highest value in the global security marketplace.

Making connections
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of CSAW for NYU-Poly students is the opportunity it presents to engage directly with leading firms and their representatives. While CSAW is not a formal recruiting event, its focus is students, which allows them to demonstrate their considerable talents to those who can advance their ambitions.

As Professor Memon noted, “CSAW has become the largest student-centric event in the world for cyber security. There is no other event that comes close in terms of size and scope.” With this reputation, CSAW generates tremendous potential for students to make the important connections that lead to successful careers, and continues to bridge the gap between academia and industry.