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For someone like Zachary Ducker who grew up learning and studying about cryptographic methods, meeting and talking with pioneers in the field of digital cryptography was more than a privilege and honor, he said. It was an overpowering experience.

“To be able to meet individuals such as Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir and Whit Diffie whose ideas formed the cryptographic methods I studied … to meet and talk with them in person was very profound.” 

Ducker is one of three UMUC students who took part in the Security Scholar Program at the 2017 RSA Conference (RSAC) held at San Francisco. Nikolas Roby and Laura Dozier also represented UMUC.

The program was initiated in 2016 by RSAC, widely recognized as the world’s largest cyber information and idea-sharing platform, to enrich the conversation about staying ahead of cyber threats and identify future cybersecurity leaders.

In all, up to 60 students from 22 leading U.S. colleges and universities were selected to participate in the curated program that provided them opportunities to showcase their areas of expertise, connect with cybersecurity professionals and interact with industry legends.

For instance, Rivest and Shamir, mentioned earlier, are the “R” and “S” in both RSA Conference and RSA cryptosystem, which is extensively used to secure data transmission. And Diffie is a namesake of the famous Diffie-Hellmann algorithm used to secure most webpages.

UMUC’s trio of security scholars met with all three, as well as with Dimitri Alperovitch from CrowdStrike, the company that investigated the DNC hack that took place during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election— and attributed it to Russia’s intelligence services.

“It was quite surreal to talk to Dimitri Alperovitch and discuss CrowdStrike’s investigation,” said Ducker, who, along with UMUC fellows Roby and Dozier, and other Security Scholars, also attended an invitation-only dinner with industry leaders.  Included at the table were VIPs from Lockheed-Martin, MITRE, Intel Security, SANS, Deloitte and Google.

“Everyone we talked to was just as interested in us as we were in them. It was a great experience,” Roby said.

Loyce Pailen, UMUC collegiate professor of cybersecurity technology attends the conference to stay on top of the key issues facing the cyber industry. But, she said, an added benefit for her this year was being there to support UMUC’s student participants, whom she nominated.

Ducker, a veteran, works with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise as a network security architect for the United States Postal Service in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was nominated for his “excellent work” in a graduate school cybersecurity management and policy course, Pailen said.

He said that he experienced the “impact and effects” of physical warfare” during two deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, but today, he does battle on a different front

“I now protect enterprise networks from digital attacks and see firsthand that future operations will be involving the cyberspace realm,” he said. His contribution to the RSAC Security Scholar Program was the poster session, “A Historical Based Approach to Email Threat Prevention.”

Dozier was invited to join the program based on her outstanding contributions to the field, Pailen said. Prior to joining Anne Arundel Community College as a full-time faculty member in 2011, Dozier was part of the programming staff at the University of South Carolina, where she wrote code and installed systems for financial offices in the state government. She also worked for Legislative Printing and Information Technology Resources, an entity created to support the South Carolina State Legislature.

Recently, Dozier earned her Master of Science in Information Technology with a concentration in Information Assurance from UMUC.

Roby, a senior security engineer at G2, Inc., is studying for his master’s in cybersecurity at UMUC where, as part of the university’s cybersecurity competition team—the Cyber Padawans—he has participated in several cyber challenges, including CCDC, Rapid 7, National Cyber Analyst Challenge and B-Sides CTFs.

A former cryptographic linguist with the U.S. Army, Roby served overseas for several years and was afterward assigned to a unit at Ft. Meade as a network exploitation analyst. He was selected to participate as an RSAC Security Scholar for his accomplishments as a technical leader and student, Pailen said.

Commenting on his conference experience, Roby, who presented on the “Application of Blockchain Technology in Online Voting,” said he was grateful for the opening to showcase his work.

“I hope that the friendships and contacts made for this event will continue far into the future, and I thank UMUC for nominating me and giving me the opportunity,” he added.

Learn more about the 2017 RSAC Security Scholar Program here.