Four Brookdale Community College students are among the 104 finalists in a statewide technology competition hosted by Governor Chris Christie and the Secretary of Higher Education. Dubbed the “New Jersey Governor’s Cyber Challenge,” the event will take place Saturday, March 23 at Brookdale, and will be administered by the Cyber Aces Foundation.
The four Brookdale finalists are Flamur “Tony” Bomova (Freehold), Colin Mahns (Shrewsbury), Christian Nicholson (Freehold) and Keith Novak (Lincroft).
The goal of the competition is to identify New Jersey’s best cybersecurity talent and guide them into college training courses and, ultimately, high-level security jobs. More than 600 New Jersey college students, active duty and veteran armed services members and jobseekers participated in the challenge’s first phase. The 104 finalists coming to Brookdale are its top scorers.
NetWars, the system used by the U.S. Military, U.S. Government agencies and many businesses to evaluate and train their people, will be used in the Cyber Challenge. Participants will compete in two, two-and-a-half hour rounds: one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. An awards ceremony will follow. Participants will arrive at 8:30am and the competition will begin promptly at 10am.
“I am very pleased that a number of my students took the time to participate in this statewide competition and did well enough to be invited to the first New Jersey Governor’s Cyber Challenge,” notes Engineering and Technology Department Chair and Professor Mike Qaissaunee.
Bomova, a returning student and married father of identical twins who will graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Network Information Technology in May, learned about the competition when Skoudis spoke during one of his courses last fall. Bomova credits Engineering Technology Professors Qaissaunee and Mohammad Shanehsaz and as well as Adjunct Professor Bela Erdelyi for encouraging, motivating, and challenging him, noting they are “the most inspirational professors I have ever had.”
Mahns, who will also graduate in May with an Associate’s Degree in Network Information Technology, credits Red Bank Regional High School Honors Networking and Security teacher Mandy Galante with igniting his interest in cybersecurity challenges and giving him a strong foundation from which to grow as a student and competitor. Mahns looks forward to the unknown aspect of the March 23 event. “We do not have any idea as to what we will have to do until we walk in, and will have to figure out what to do on our own,” says Mahns.
Nicholson, who is largely and proudly self-taught, sees the competition as a way to legitimize his expertise by giving him “the chance to show that I am more than just talk and that my age has nothing to do with my skill level.”
In contrast, the seasoned Novak faces the next phase of the competition with some 18 years of information technology experience with various health and technology organizations. Novak is looking to expand his hands-on cybersecurity knowledge so he is “better equipped to manage both the regulatory requirements and to keep up with the ever increasing attacks against our corporate networks and critical infrastructure.”
The top performers at the championship will be invited to enroll in the country’s first National Cyber Centers Network site to be located at Brookdale, the New Jersey CyberCenter at Brookdale. This innovative, invitation-only program will provide students with an intensive cybersecurity curriculum including Brookdale courses, SANS courses, lab work, and residencies. Graduates will emerge with the essential skills needed to fill mission-critical jobs in cybersecurity.
Brookdale faculty, local SANS Institute faculty, and industry experts will supervise the training, provide support to students, and meet with students periodically to ensure their progress, with the goal of placing them in high-level security jobs, according to Professor Qaissaunee.
“The security of our nation depends on our ability to build a reliable, scalable pipeline of skilled cybersecurity professionals,” said SANS Institute Director of Research Alan Paller. “In the war on cyber attacks, these talented professionals will be our best pilots.”
Qaissaunee started the Brookdale cybersecurity program with Ed Skoudis, a SANS Institute faculty fellow who is also the founder of the Wall, N.J.-based security firm Counter Hack. Established in 1989 as a cooperative research and education organization, SANS Institute programs now reach more than 165,000 security professionals around the world. Counter Hack is a company devoted to the development of information security challenges for education, evaluation, and competition.
By: Kelly Par, Project Administrator E-MATE, E-books and Mobile Apps for Technician Education