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Brown CS Students Make Another Strong Showing At The Third Annual Cyber 9/12 Student Competition

Brown CS students continue to distinguish themselves at hackathons nationwide. To read more on this topic, click here.

This past weekend, team Brown Secure (composed of Brown University students Luke Camery, Nicholas Curcio, Sarah McNeil, and Dayton Williams, all juniors, and coached by Brown CS Professor John Savage) attended the fourth annual Atlantic Council Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge. The event features teams from across the country and is designed to give students a taste of the challenges that face White House policy makers when responding to national cybersecurity threats. Having won first prize last year and a prize for Best Teamwork in 2014, Brown Secure faced even greater competition this year and advanced to the second of three rounds. 

The competition began weeks in advance, when the students prepared a decision document for the President of the United States that consisted of four stages of possible responses to a fictional emerging threat to the US Global Positioning System associated with Pakistani hackers and the Indian and Chinese governments. Arriving on Friday to give an oral presentation of their recommendations, Brown Secure's reputation preceded them, and the room was so crowded that many observers had to stand.

Each team had ten minutes to present their ideas, then took questions for another ten minutes. Judges included a wide selection of individuals from both the public and private sector: the US Departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, State, and Justice; the British Embassy; Deloitte Consulting; Symantec; the New York Times; and dozens of other organizations.   

On Friday evening, the teams were hosted by the Baker & McKenzie global law firm at their offices on Connecticut Avenue, overlooking Lafayette Park and the White House. Speakers included David Lashway of Baker & McKenzie, Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council, and Christopher Painter of the US Department of State. After the speeches, the teams qualifying for the next round were announced, and Brown Secure advanced, joined by only fourteen others.

A long night followed: faced with a new Intelligence Report, the team scrambled to prepare a new decision document, with students averaging less than two hours of sleep. The next morning brought a lecture on the "Congressional Angle on Cybersecurity Policy" by Nick Leiserson (an older sibling of current Brown CS PhD candidate Max Leiserson) and then another presentation to a panel of judges. This time, Brown CS wasn't among the qualifiers for the final round, but they had already defeated more than twenty-five competitors and produced innovative solutions under highly challenging conditions.  

"The team did a terrific job both preparing and presenting their proposals," says John. "Their understanding of the issues was deep and their recommendations were inventive. The number of competing teams doubled this year, and many of them contained individuals who were far older, with well-established careers. If you can envision pitting a team of college juniors against an Air Force investigative agent who has worked in intelligence for more than a decade and many other individuals with similar accomplishments, you see how remarkable Brown Secure's achievement was."