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Students from Carnegie Mellon University Win 2019 Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition

College students representing 15 universities compete at Deloitte University for a real-world challenge of cyber and business complexity.

Four students from Carnegie Mellon University won the 2019 Deloitte Foundation Cyber Threat Competition. Team members Karttik Panda, Veera Nandiraju, Sanika Suwant and Nishith Yadav each received $2,000 in scholarship money. Carnegie Mellon University teams have competed since the competition began five years ago, and always rank amongst top performing teams. This is the first win for the university.

The competition consisted of three rounds over the last two month that culminated Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The first round was an online cyber competency quiz and the second was an online technical challenge. In both, students competed individually. Then, the top qualifying student competitors from each university were invited to Deloitte’s leadership center, Deloitte University in Westlake, Texas, to represent their schools as teams and compete in the final round — the Cyber Wargame event. In this competition, the teams faced off during a two-day challenge that simulated a real corporate environment during a cyber-attack. Teams had to evaluate the information available and return a response plan recommendation to a fictitious team of corporate executives, made up of Deloitte cyber professionals.

“In the first rounds, we test their technical cyber chops, but the final round is quite different from most cyber hackathon competitions, as we also test their business acumen,” said Anthony Russo, a Cyber Risk Services principal in Risk and Financial Advisory at Deloitte & Touche LLP. “Real-world cyber incidents test even the most capable business leaders and impact an entire organization not merely their information technology environments. It’s important for students to experience how corporations today may be responding to such events, and to test the critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills they will need as they head into the workforce.”

The first-place team received $2,000 in scholarship money per student, the second-place team received $1,000 per student and the third-place team received $500 in scholarship per student. Students from Purdue University placed second overall, and the university was a new entrant to the competition this year. Four undergraduate students from Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia finished third.

“The Deloitte Foundation recognizes cybersecurity as one of the most complex challenges that students can face as they enter the working world, and as one of the largest talent voids organizations are struggling to address,” said John Rooney, principal, Deloitte Transaction & Business Analytics LLP and Deloitte Foundation board member. “Our mission is to accelerate education innovation and we’re excited to see the interest in and growth of the Cyber Threat Competition over the past five years. The Foundation is committed to finding creative and impactful ways to prepare students for the future.”

Barathi Krishnamurthy, a student in the masters program in information systems represented the University of Washington during the competition and had this to say about the importance of such experiences, “In business school, we learn cyber concepts but it’s a base upon which to build. The competition gives us the flavor of work that real cyber professionals do. This simulation experience put me directly in their shoes when a cyber incident occurs. I was able to connect a lot of dots from the classroom with what I learned in the competition and confirmed this is the industry where I want to be involved.”

Students preparing to enter the workforce are facing an evolving cyber landscape and therefore should prepare themselves differently to meet these growing needs of organizations. Universities must now equip their students with the tools to meet those needs and become successful in this new landscape. To help accomplish this, this year’s competition also featured a separate session for educators from the attending schools in Deloitte’s Greenhouse™ Lab. In the Cyber Faculty Greenhouse™ Lab, educators participated in a full-day of dynamic engagement and collaborative brainstorming exercises. The lab was designed to equip educators with the tools they need to prepare the talent of tomorrow to face the changing the nature of cyber work, including the adaption of IoT, robotics and increased globalization.

“These competitions and experiences are invaluable for our students to understand the scope of cyber outside of solving puzzles and technical challenges,” said Jeff Jenkins, a professor in the masters in cybersecurity program at Brigham Young University. “However, the Cyber Faculty Greenhouse Lab led by Deloitte was an outstanding opportunity to collaborate, discuss and plan for the cyber education opportunities and challenges of the future.”