We expect that our passwords will protect us. We believe that companies are trying to keep us safe. That doesn’t mean they succeed.

Last month, the hacker group Anonymous celebrated Guy Fawkes Day with the theft of 28,000 PayPal passwords. It reminds us that the information world is open, and we’re all at risk. But while the forces of digital evil prowl the Internet and our firewalls, so do the white knights.

And some of the best of those white knights are in training at West Virginia University.

A team made up of graduate students from WVU and the University of South Alabama competed against more than 1,000 teams from around the world to win top honors in their division in the 2012 Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center Digital Forensics Challenge.

The annual online competition serves as a call to the digital forensics community to cultivate new cyber professionals and pioneer new investigative tools, techniques and methods.

WVU computer science majors Raymond Borges, Jarilyn Hernandez and Omar Aragon joined their colleague, Joshua Cazalas from Southern Alabama, in besting 83 teams, 44 of which were from the United States, in the graduate competition. SANS Institute and Best Buy sponsored the graduate division.

The winners received passes to an upcoming Hacker Halted Conference, valued at nearly $1,700 per person; $100 Best Buy gift cards; access to International Council of Electronic Commerce Consultants courseware; and a trip to the 2013 DC3 Conference.

“The competition was a great way to learn the skills needed for cyber security in the real world,” Borges said. “The challenges were developed by professional investigators from the Department of Defense and it allowed us to measure ourselves against the best private companies, military organizations, civilians and academic teams in the world. It’s also an excellent project-based learning experience that I believe more universities should integrate into their educational programs. The competition also gave us the opportunity to develop connections with other students who had skills in some areas we were lacking and learn from each other.”

The first-time competitors from WVU didn’t think they had much of a chance in this year’s competition and were planning to use it as a learning experience.

“When the competition progressed and we started making progress we thought, ‘hey maybe we should actually try to win’ so we stepped up our efforts,” Borges said. “Next year we will try again, and we’re looking for people with good programming skills from across the University to help us out.”

Now in its seventh year, the DC3 Challenge, comprised of 23 individual progressive-level challenges, has exercises ranging from basic digital forensics to advanced tool development. The objectives are to establish relationships, resolve issues, and develop new and creative tools and techniques. Each team is challenged on five different levels. The levels, according to team advisor and Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Roy Nutter, become progressively more difficult in the development of the solutions for each given scenario.

“The first levels are relatively easy,” Nutter said. “But by the time they get to level five, they encounter unsolved, real-world scenarios that not even the designers of the competition have figured out.”

Teams can register and submit their solutions throughout the contest, which begins on Dec.15 of each year and runs through Nov. 2. Teams solve the DC3 Challenge on their own and submit their solutions back to the DC3 Challenge team to be graded. The joint WVU-Southern Alabama team scored 4,474 points.

“Although the DC3 Digital Forensics Competition is in its seventh year, this is the first time students from WVU have competed,” Nutter said. “Since we began our digital forensics graduate certificate program in 2002, this program has grown to incorporate more and more students and more and more interest.

“Raymond, Jarilyn and Omar have been outstanding students in our graduate program. They dedicated an unbelievable amount of time to solving the conundrums of this competition.”



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon
304-293-4086, Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.