MGA Students Are Four Of Top 10 In Major Cybersecurity Competition

Author: News Bureau
Posted: Tuesday, March 16, 2021 12:00 AM
Categories: Pressroom | Honors/Awards | School of Computing | Students

Macon, GA

Clockwise are Kartavya Trivedi, Laurent Espinosa, Caleb Knight, and Victor Fordham.

Middle Georgia State University current or recently graduated students made up four of the top 10 finalists in the 2020 “Secure the Future” event, a grueling multi-month academic competition where contestants come up with strategies to fight major cybersecurity threats. MGA was the only university in the nation with that many finalists.

The students/alumni are Victor Fordham, captain of MGA’s CyberKnights organization; Kartavya Trivedi; Caleb Knight; and Laurent Espinosa. As the competition’s third-place winner, Trivedi won a $2,500 cash prize.

“Secure the Future” is sponsored by Palo Alto Networks, a prestigious network and cybersecurity company headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., to help identify up-and-coming talent in that field. The company’s global threat intelligence team has helped solve multiple cybercrime cases. 

“The four who represented MGA will be given a chance to interview for jobs or internships with Palo Alto as a result of their top 10 finishes,” said Dr. Alan Stines, MGA assistant professor of IT and the CyberKnights advisor. “This particular competition had multiple phases and took place over the course of several months. Phase one began with 100 competitors in October 2020 and was narrowed to 10 by phase four. It’s a real badge of honor for MGA that four of the top 10 students represent our University.”

“Secure the Future” competitors chose different industry sectors, such as energy, healthcare, or finance, and developed reports, videos, and presentations related to protecting operational assets through the analysis, comparison, and selection of advanced security tools, methodologies, and implementation options. Participants were tasked to come up with approaches for deploying end-to-end attack detection, alert triage, threat hunting, investigation, orchestration, and automated response activities.

In February 2021, all top 10 finalists presented their findings and methodologies to Palo Alto engineers, managers, and directors.

Trevedi, 25, of Macon, graduated from MGA last summer with his Bachelor of Science in IT with a concentration in cybersecurity. Placing third in the competition “will be a huge advantage for me professionally,” he said. “I acquired a lot of knowledge over the past five months. The things I learned about the energy sector and the different technologies were very interesting.”

Fordham, 22, of Dry Branch, Ga., is a current IT major in the cybersecurity concentration.

“My favorite aspect of cybersecurity is malware analysis and reverse engineering, so ideally I would love to find a job where I'll be able to practice and grow in this knowledge,” he said. “This competition may provide an opportunity for that as Palo Alto has very prominent malware analysis teams. The prospect of working at Palo Alto is highly relevant to my interests.”

An Atlanta resident, Espinosa is also pursuing the IT degree with the cybersecurity concentration. He described his work for the competition as “akin to jumping in the ocean after living in the desert.”

“I delved into a very complicated and nebulous subject matter that I had absolutely no knowledge of – power generation, transmission, and distribution networks,” he said. “Now I am fascinated by the energy sector and hope one day to work in that field of cybersecurity.”

Knight, 27, of Lula, Ga., graduated with his undergraduate degree during the competition. He is now enrolled in MGA’s Master of Science in Information Technology and works for General Motors in enterprise systems.

“I’m looking to make a transition into the cyber defense team at GM to work on internal penetration tests,” he said. The competition “helped me improve my research and presentation skills and allowed me to take my knowledge gained from my courses and apply it to a real-world sector. I now get to say I reached the top 10 in a competition of 100 people for one of the biggest cybersecurity companies in the world.”