Hack event gives students a chance to battle back against simulated cyberattackPosted on April 25, 2019
by Matt Swayne. Originally published on Penn State News
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Malicious cyber activities — or hacks — cost the United States’ economy more than $100 billion a year, or about .64 percent of the nation’s GDP, according to the most recent figures from the White House. Training the next generation of cybersecurity experts is now a national priority.
A group of about 70 Penn State students, faculty and staff from a range of fields and disciplines took a step toward taking on roles as interdisciplinary cyber hack responders in the 2019 Penn State Hack Response Simulation Competition held recently at the Technology Support Building at University Park. Participants came from Penn State’s Dickinson Law, the College of Information Technology and Sciences, Penn State Law, Smeal College of Business, the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, the Applied Research Laboratory, and the U.S. Army War College.
Anne Toomey McKenna, distinguished scholar of cyber law at Dickinson Law, and Penn State’s Institute for CyberScience co-hire and professor of practice, developed the hack response scenario and worked with Russ Houseknecht, lecturer, information sciences and technology, to design of the simulation, said the idea for the exercise was inspired partially by her own experience as a trial lawyer representing clients over the years who struggled with compliance, security, and data privacy in their computer systems as her clients increasingly found themselves vulnerable to hacks and other forms of data breaches.
“Time and time again, I would see situations where clients would be faced with a data breach, but they would either not understand either the information technology aspects of it — the cybersecurity technical piece — or not understand the legal compliance piece of it,” McKenna said. “I recognized in my own practice area that it was very hard to find lawyers who understood the technology and very hard to find people in the technology area, who understood the legal requirements and also electronic evidence preservation.”
One way to address this disciplinary disconnect was to bring together students from business, information technology and sciences, communications and law to help students from diverse backgrounds learn how to collaborate effectively on responses to future hacks.
The exercise centered on a hacker who used a phishing scam to gain access to a university’s computer systems that contained, for research and development purposes, records from a health and insuring program for military personnel, their families, and civilian contractors. In a phishing scam, the attacker sends an email from what appears to be a trusted entity and when the unaware victim replies or clicks on a link in that email, it enables the hacker to have the victim’s access to the computer system. The exposed data in this scenario included sensitive medical and personal information that had national security implications as well, all of which were fictitious.
The 2019 Penn State Hack Response Simulation Competition gave students from a range of fields and backgrounds a chance to work together to battle back against a simulated cyberattack. (Video: Jordan Futrick)
Nine interdisciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students then studied the hack to form a response to address the full range of possible considerations and responses. Teams had to consider the entire cycle of a hack, i.e., initial detection; defense and mitigation of system damage; evidence preservation; whether hacking back was permissible; and legal compliance, including what the teams were required to report about the hack and to whom. The teams then had to present their insights and recommendations to the executive board.
Donald Welch, Penn State’s chief information security officer and one of the members of the executive board, addressed the group on the critical step of securing the system and mitigating the damage done by a hacker.
“Before you start the securing and mitigation process, you have to understand the breadth and depth of that intrusion,” Welch told the teams. “You have to understand the sophistication of the intrusion and see how they dug themselves in. Having that understanding is really key.”
Members of the executive board who specialized in legal aspects of cyber hacks explained that all aspects of the response, even ones that may sound trivial or obvious, such as the words that the team used to describe the hack, are important and must be well-thought out.
“Vocabulary matters to legal,” advised Amy C. Gaudion, dean for academic affairs, Dickinson Law. “Make sure you are careful before you use the word ‘attack’ because there are legal implications of that word. Be cognizant of the terms you are using.”
Organizers said the teams demonstrated that they learned how to work together as an integrated team with a common purpose. Teams that do not understand integrating all the facets of a hack can cause a ripple effect, making an already bad situation worse, added McKenna.
“Damages increase when people don’t understand these interdisciplinary aspects that flow from a hack,” said McKenna.
Participant Shelly Curling, instructor of accounting in the Smeal College of Business, said the interdisciplinary experience gave students from a range of majors a seat at the table and gave them a chance to break out of their disciplinary silos.
“This is a fantastic event and I would say the importance of the event for students is that these students are gaining an unmatched interdisciplinary experience with some of the brightest minds,” said Curling. “This gives students a big picture look at the complexities that go beyond their majors. An IST student is getting the perspective of a communications student, for example, or a business student is learning the IST perspective — they are pulling together all of these different facets.”
Participants also said that in addition to learning how to work together, the team environment helped them learn a lot from each other.
“For me, it was learning what the other members of my group know,” said Andrew Kline, a student in Information Sciences and Technology, who is interested in cybersecurity and was a member of Team 1. “On our team, we had so many different backgrounds, so while I have a cybersecurity background, we also had members from a legal point of view, or a business background, and so I was learning what they knew and I was learning it in a way that was cohesive.”
The teams had 105 minutes to write responses to the questions in the 9 categories.
In addition to McKenna, Welch and Gaudion, members of the executive board for the Hack included Thomas I. Vanaskie, retired circuit judge United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; James W. Houck, retired U.S. Navy vice admiral; director, Center for Security Research and Education and Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs; Wyatt DuBois, assistant director, Penn State’s Office of Strategic Communications; Mike Hohnka, head of access and effects department, data and image sciences division, Applied Research Laboratory; Peter K. Forster, associate teaching professor, Information Sciences and Technology, associate dean for online and professional education and program coordinator, Homeland Security MPS.
The winning team members included Walter Bain and Sean O’Connor, both information sciences and technology students; Haeyeon Kim, Penn State Law; Logan Miller, Dickinson Law; Howard Matthews, U.S. Army War College; and Kevin Kuczynski, an engineer at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory.
- SMH! Brains trained on e-devices may struggle to understand scientific info
- Multi-institutional team to use AI to evaluate social, behavioral science claims
- NSF invests in cyberinfrastructure institute to harness cosmic data
- Center for Immersive Experiences set to debut, serving researchers and students
- Distant Suns, Distant Worlds
- CyberScience Seminar: Researcher to discuss how AI can help people avoid adverse drug interactions
- AI could offer warnings about serious side effects of drug-drug interactions
- Taking RTKI drugs during radiotherapy may not aid survival, worsens side effects
- Cost-effective cloud research computing options now available for researchers
- Costs of natural disasters are increasing at the high end
- Model helps choose wind farm locations, predicts output
- Virus may jump species through ‘rock-and-roll’ motion with receptors
- Researchers seek to revolutionize catalyst design with machine learning
- Resilient Resumes team places third in Nittany AI Challenge
- ‘AI in Action’: Machine learning may help scientists explore deep sleep
- Clickbait Secrets Exposed! Humans and AI team up to improve clickbait detection
- Focusing computational power for more accurate, efficient weather forecasts
- How many Earth-like planets are around sun-like stars?
- Professor receives NSF grant to model cell disorder in heart
- Whole genome sequencing may help officials get a handle on disease outbreaks
- New tool could reduce security analysts’ workloads by automating data triage
- Careful analysis of volcano’s plumbing system may give tips on pending eruptions
- Reducing farm greenhouse gas emissions may plant the seed for a cooler planet
- Using artificial intelligence to detect discrimination
- Four ways scholars say we can cut the chances of nasty satellite data surprises
- Game theory shows why stigmatization may not make sense in modern society
- Older adults can serve communities as engines of everyday innovation
- Pig-Pen effect: Mixing skin oil and ozone can produce a personal pollution cloud
- Researchers find genes that could help create more resilient chickens
- Despite dire predictions, levels of social support remain steady in the U.S.
- For many, friends and family, not doctors, serve as a gateway to opioid misuse
- New algorithm may help people store more pictures, share videos faster
- Head named for Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering
- Scientific evidence boosts action for activists, decreases action for scientists
- People explore options, then selectively represent good options to make difficult decisions
- Map reveals that lynching extended far beyond the deep South
- Gravitational forces in protoplanetary disks push super-Earths close to stars
- Supercomputer cluster donation helps turn high school class into climate science research lab
- Believing machines can out-do people may fuel acceptance of self-driving cars
- People more likely to trust machines than humans with their private info
- IBM donates system to Penn State to advance AI research
- ICS Seed Grants to power projects that use AI, machine learning for common good
- Penn State Berks team advances to MVP Phase of Nittany AI Challenge
- Creepy computers or people partners? Working to make AI that enhances humanity
- Sky is clearing for using AI to probe weather variability
- ‘AI will see you now’: Panel to discuss the AI revolution in health and medicine
- Privacy law scholars must address potential for nasty satellite data surprises
- Researchers take aim at hackers trying to attack high-value AI models
- Girls, economically disadvantaged less likely to get parental urging to study computers
- Seed grants awarded to projects using Twitter data
- Researchers find features that shape mechanical force during protein synthesis
- A peek at living room decor suggests how decorations vary around the world
- Interactive websites may cause antismoking messages to backfire
- Changing how government assesses risk may ease fallout from extreme financial events
- Algorithm aims to alert consumers before they use illicit online pharmacies
- Using cues and actions to help people get along with artificial intelligence
- Multi-university NSF grant to boost research computing expertise