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Team Places Third in Worldwide Cyber Forensics Challenge

The group’s performance “validated all the work we did and the great education we get at UNH,” said Joseph Ricci, a cyber systems major. “It gave us a sense of pride to have done so well.”

It was a ripped-from-the-headlines challenge: a corporation’s website had been breached – or had it? If so, how did it happen and who was responsible?

Photo of Joseph Ricci ’17

These were questions that occupied the nights, weekends and very early morning hours of Christopher Meffert ’16, ’18 M.S., Joseph Ricci ’17 and their professor, Ibrahim (Abe) Baggili, Elder Family Endowed Chair of computer science and assistant dean of the Tagliatela College of Engineering, throughout much of the spring semester as they competed in the international Black T-Shirt Cyber Forensics Challenge, a joint academic and industry contest with 1,012 contestants from 42 countries and 45 different states.

“Just about every minute that we weren’t in class or doing homework we were working to solve this challenge,” said Meffert, who is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science with a concentration in cyber security. He and Ricci, a cyber systems major, said they relished the quest and all it taught them.

They didn’t need endless cups of coffee or energy drinks to push them forward at two or three each morning as the deadline neared. “We fed off each other’s energy and enthusiasm,” Ricci said. “We really wanted to solve this.”

“It was a very difficult competition,” Baggili added. “We just cranked and cranked and cranked and ended up submitting our report about one minute before the deadline.”

The work paid off as the team placed third among 184 teams from universities around the world.

The Award

Placing in a worldwide competition backed by well-known corporate sponsors, such as Amazon, and 65 academic partners brings notice and recognition and affirms that the University of New Haven’s cyber security major, while still new, “is one of the best programs out there,” said Baggili.

The first couple of months, they blazed along, analyzing the system and the scenario, determining there had been a breach. They were closing in on how it happened and who was responsible “when we hit a wall,” Ricci said.

“There were two files we just couldn’t access,” Meffert said “That’s when Professor Baggili jumped into the trenches with us. He was there every night those last few weeks, working with us past midnight.”

They posed questions and Baggili reminded them “to think like a “black hat” hacker – a cybercriminal. “It’s so interesting to me to think like hackers do,” Meffert said. “They break into a system to destroy things or to collect things and you have to put yourself in their shoes.”

In the end, with the clock ticking toward the final deadline, they found ways around the two files to prove their theory, finished their report and placed in the top three. “It validated all the work we did and the great education we get at UNH.”

Ricci said. “It gave us a sense of pride to have done so well.” Ricci and Meffert said having the chance to solve a problem like one they’ll eventually take on in the workplace was invaluable.

They recently began working on their second international challenge. The hours and hours of work it will take, in addition to their courses and other research projects, they said, isn’t daunting in the least.

“We’re excited to get started,” Meffert said.