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Cyber Team Sees Recent Stretch of Success

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
  • News |
  • Cybersecurity

The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) cybersecurity competition team posted two impressive accomplishments during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, including stellar showings against teams from across the globe..

UMGC moved into third place in the Hack the Box rankings among U.S.-based teams in October and 22nd in the world. Later in the month, the team placed 2nd in the 15th annual Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory Competition (MAGIC) Capture The Flag (CTF) event, which included university teams from around the world.

“Hack the Box is well known among the hacking community because of its ranking tiers and its relevance to real-life workplace challenges,” said Jesse Varsalone, collegiate associate professor, of cybersecurity technology at UMGC and faculty coordinator of the cybersecurity team. “Students are able to practice compromising machines in an isolated environment to gain invaluable experience outside the classroom.”

Hack the Box is an online cybersecurity training platform that allows businesses, government institutions and universities to sharpen their offensive and defensive security expertise. Roughly 250 U.S.-based schools compete in Hack the Box, with 1,000 universities competing worldwide.

The MAGIC competition, held at Carrol Community College in Westminster, Maryland,, was co-run by past UMGC team member and alumnus Jonathan Woodward, a former first place finisher. The UMGC 2nd place team consisted of four current undergraduate students: Ean Harmon, Eduardo Figueroa, Isaiah Valdez and Mike Gronau.

CTF events hosted by MAGIC are based on content developed by cybersecurity professionals at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and extended and modified by MAGIC volunteers. The October event featured 25 teams tackling puzzles that required hacking tools, coding skills and problem solving to find the answers, which are short strings of code called “flags.” Once located, the flags are entered onto a scoreboard that keeps a tally for all teams. The team with the most points at the end of the timed competition wins.

The four-hour MAGIC challenge was broken into difficulty levels that became progressively more daunting. They included Linux- and Windows-specific problems focused on reverse engineering, password cracking and other coding challenges.

On November 11, the team earned second place in the first DMV Collegiate Capture the Flag (CTF) competition, proving itself a tough contender against first place George Mason University.  

The event at Loyola University of Maryland’s Timonium Graduate Center brought together nine universities from the District of Columbia-Virginia-Maryland region. 

“UMGC continues to demonstrate that it is a top team in local, regional and national events,” said Varsalone. “The second-place finish in the DVM competition reaffirmed the skill of our cybersecurity students and validated the excellence of our curriculum and faculty.”  

UMGC finished first among all Maryland universities and second overall behind Virginia’s George Mason. The other universities competing were host Loyola, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Morgan State University, Penn State University, Capitol University, Messiah University and Maryland Bible College   

The UMGC team was comprised of four undergraduates—Isaiah Valdez, James Roy, Eddie Figueroa and Adrian Matthews—and graduate student Michael Fraenhoffer. 

Established in 2012, the UMGC cybersecurity team is composed of students, alumni and faculty who compete regularly in digital forensics, penetration testing and computer network defense scenarios that help them gain experience to advance their cybersecurity careers. To prepare for competitions, students detect and combat cyberattacks in the university’s Virtual Security Lab and work through case studies in an online classroom.

The UMGC team, ranked among the top 50 in the National Cyber League in 2022, has earned numerous honors throughout its history, including championships in local, national and international competitions. In addition to several top-three finishes in the Maryland Cyber Challenge, UMGC won the gold medal in the 2014 Global CyberLympics and took first place in 2015 in the inaugural DiploHack competition sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. UMGC also won a Silver Award in the 2016 National Cyber Analyst Challenge and finished third in the 2022 Maritime and Control Systems Cybersecurity Con Hack the Port competition.