A group of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity com­puter sci­ence stu­dents has bested seven other teams from insti­tu­tions around the United States to earn top honors in the 2010 National Col­le­giate Cyber Defense Competition.

Northeastern’s team con­sisted of grad­uate stu­dents Weiwei Hu and Alagu Iru­lappan, and under­grad­uate stu­dents Marc Held, Shawn Smith, William Nowak and Chan­ning Conger. Kevin Amorin, a lec­turer in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence, coached the team.

Now in its fifth year, the Cyber Defense Com­pe­ti­tion was held from April 16 to 18 in San Antonio, Texas. To win the top prize, known as the Alamo Cup, par­tic­i­pants have to figure out ways to manage and pro­tect a fic­tional company’s net­work infra­struc­ture. Each team quickly assesses its network’s cur­rent pro­tec­tion level, then tries to fend off a series of cyber attacks.

Teams are judged on how well they detect and respond to out­side threats, main­tain their business’s oper­a­tional needs, stay respon­sive to user demands, and meet service-​​level agree­ments for all crit­ical Internet operations.

The North­eastern team started training in December for this year’s event. Smith, the North­eastern team cap­tain, says the experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­ni­ties he and his team­mates received at their var­ious co-​​op jobs—which included working at Google and Microsoft—paid huge div­i­dends during the competition.

We can talk with one another about what we know,” Smith says. “I might not know how to do some­thing, but, instead of having to search online for a few min­utes, I can get a straight answer from one of my friends.”

The com­pe­ti­tion, the world’s largest college-​​level cyber-​​defense con­test, pro­vides stu­dents with prac­tical expe­ri­ence and the oppor­tu­nity to meet and interact with industry pro­fes­sionals. Uni­ver­si­ties use the event to eval­uate the effi­cacy of their cyber-​​security cur­riculum. Even Howard Schmidt, the White House’s cyber­se­cu­rity coor­di­nator, attended the event to observe the teams at work.

Northeastern’s team has shown remark­able growth over the three years it has com­peted. In 2008, the team fin­ished second in the North­east regional con­test. Last year, the team won the North­east regional and took second in the national com­pe­ti­tion. This year, North­eastern defeated eight other teams in the regional in March before win­ning the national competition.

We were kind of coming back with a vengeance, I guess,” says Smith, who has com­peted each of the last three years. “It felt really good to win.”