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NYU Tandon’s Cyber Fellows are a (Cyber) Force to Be Reckoned With

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Anyone who attended camp as a child probably remembers “color wars,” intense, often multiday, events in which campers are split into teams (each of which is assigned a color) to compete in various challenges and demonstrate their camp spirit and pride. But even university students are not too old to get in on the action, and the NYU Tandon Cyber Fellows, students in an intensive online cybersecurity program, are showing how.

In a spirit similar to that of color wars — but much more serious and with much more practical application — information-security professionals now engage in so-called red team-blue team activities: training exercises in which members of an organization divide into groups to find vulnerabilities in a cyber-system and defend against them. In such competitions, members of the red team take on the role of attackers, finding and exploiting a system’s weaknesses, while the members of the blue team seek out those weaknesses, try to patch them, and respond to the attacks.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently launched a series of team competitions aimed at defending the nation’s energy-related cyber-infrastructure, and this month NYU Tandon will be fielding a highly skilled team, whose members will be traveling to the Brookhaven National Lab on November 30 to take part. Participants include Paola Garcia Cardenas (team captain), Chengying He, Julio Nunez, Liyun Li, and Zhengqing Ye. Although they are teammates, November 30 will be one of the rare times they find themselves in the same physical location. That’s because Garcia, He, and Nunez are each a member of Tandon’s Cyber Fellows program and are earning their master’s degrees in cybersecurity on-line.

Tandon Cyber Fellows receive generous scholarships, making their master’s program exceedingly affordable, and have access to a hands-on virtual lab, industry mentors, industry-reviewed curriculum, exclusive speaker events, and high-level corporate mentors. Professor Aspen Olmsted, who helps coordinate the Fellowship and teaches Information Security and Privacy, is serving as the team’s coach, and they will be accompanied to Brookhaven by Emerald Knox, who helps oversee Tandon’s Cyber Security Awareness Worldwide (CSAW) event and who will serve as an on-site coach.

The DOE competition involves four teams: a blue team tasked with ensuring proper IT support, a red team whose mission is to actively attack the blue team's infrastructure in order to disrupt the availability and usability of the system; a white team whose members serve as administrators and architects of the competition, and a green team that tests the usability and availability of the blue team’s systems. (Tandon students have been assigned to the blue team.)

Past DOE cyber competitions have involved scenarios focused on power distributors or water and power delivery systems, and those scenarios have included realistic anomalies and constraints, so that participants increase their knowledge and understanding of cyber-physical threats, vulnerabilities, and consequences.

“When I first learned about the competition, I thought of this as a great opportunity for us to get hands-on experience and deep-dive even more into cybersecurity,” Garcia explains. “Opportunities like this help us understand how real-world cyber-attacks are carried out.” She continued, “It is a privilege to represent NYU Tandon and the Cyber Fellows program at this level of competition, and be part of activities organized by government entities such as the U.S Department of Energy.”

The entire NYU Tandon community wishes the team well as they take on the DOE’s newest challenge!