Students Engage With Industry Leaders to Sharpen Aviation Cybersecurity Skills

Students work on computers during the Cyber Rodeo.
Students from Embry-Riddle’s two residential campuses recently participated in the ACI Cyber Rodeo Competition in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University / David Massey)

Students gathered Feb. 7-8 to participate in Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s second-annual Aviation Cyber Initiative (ACI) Cyber Rodeo. The two-day event, hosted at Embry-Riddle’s Center for Aerospace Resilient Systems (CARS), included student recruitment opportunities, demonstrations, poster sessions, technical briefings and an innovative Capture the Flag (CTF) competition designed to strengthen participant’s skills in combating cyber threats to aviation operations.

“The ACI Cyber Rodeo is a gathering focused on enhancing cyber resilience and mitigating risks within the nation’s aviation ecosystem,” said Dr. David Hopfe, research development coordinator. “This event brings together a diverse community dedicated to safeguarding the aviation industry from cyber threats.”

This year’s Cyber Rodeo paired CARS together with industry partners to showcase the emerging aviation cyber research talent being fostered at the university’s Daytona Beach and Prescott campuses, while collaborating to reduce cybersecurity risks to global aviation operations.

“We are honored to host the ACI Cyber Rodeo, which offers a chance for industry and government partners engaged in aviation and aerospace cybersecurity to interact with our faculty and students in an open, educational forum,” said Embry-Riddle President P. Barry Butler, Ph.D. “And the Capture the Flag competition is an incredible, hands-on learning exercise for our students, as well as other participants.”

Building Future Careers in Cybersecurity

As the aviation industry enhances technological innovation in the field, the potential for bad acters to exploit vulnerabilities will grow. According to EIN News, the aerospace cybersecurity market is expected to reach $58.9 billion by 2032, growing at 8.4%, compounded annually. Employers look to cybersecurity professionals to reduce these risks and develop strategies to combat cyber criminals.

“It was a tremendous honor again this year for the DHS, FAA and DoD ACI leaders to allow us to host another ACI Cyber Rodeo at Embry-Riddle,” said Daniel Diessner, executive director for CARS, who has spearheaded this event at Embry-Riddle for the past two years. “This event is a great opportunity to support out students and to engage directly with the top aviation cybersecurity leaders from both industry and government, and we look forward to hosting this event again next year.”

ACI is an interagency organization with tri-chairs from the DHS, FAA and DoD with the dedicated mission to reduce cybersecurity risks and improve cyber resilience to support safe, secure and efficient operations of the nation’s aviation ecosystem.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational outlook for information security analysts is expected to grow by 32% until 2032 — much faster than the national average for all occupations. With degrees in Computer Science and Cyber Intelligence and Security, Embry-Riddle is training the next generation of leaders to protect and defend aviation from cyber risks.

“The Cyber Rodeo helps students stay up to date with the latest developments, trends and regulatory updates in aviation cybersecurity,” said Hopfe. “This ensures that students remain proactive and prepared in the face of evolving cyber threats.”

Capture the Flag

The aviation workforce excels in traditional fields like aeronautics, air transport, safety and security. However, aviation cybersecurity remains an unfamiliar discipline for many. Likewise, experts in the field of cybersecurity may lack practical aviation experience.

AFROTC Detachment 028 Cyber Team was this year’s Capture the Flag event winners for the second consecutive year.
Students from Embry-Riddle’s two residential campuses recently participated in the ACI Cyber Rodeo Competition in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University / David Massey)

The aviation cybersecurity CTF competition seeks to change that. While other CTFs may exist, Embry-Riddle’s is unique due to its aviation focus, tasking participants to solve a series of challenges mimicking a real-world scenario of a major airport under cyberattack.

“Participants act as cyber defenders and are tested on knowledge, ability and creativity in both aviation and cybersecurity domains,” said Dr. Krishna Sampigethaya, department chair of Cyber Intelligence and Security at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott Campus. “Each solved challenge earns participants a flag, with points assigned based on complexity. Teams accumulate points by successfully tackling various challenges within a specified timeframe.”

The event serves as a hands-on education platform for participants to engage, learn and apply aviation and cybersecurity skills to practical industry challenges facing the aviation sector.

To broaden and deepen the CTF’s scope, Boeing and MITRE challenges were included into the competition, along with immersive learning opportunities provided by cyber coaches from The Boeing Company, Collins Aerospace, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and CyberBen.

“This Capture the Flag exercise provides an opportunity for participants to test their cybersecurity knowledge and abilities to solve numerous aviation-based scenarios,” said Randy C. Talley, senior advisor for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and DHS ACI tri-chair. “The exercise was created to be engaging, stimulating and moreover fun. It lived up to all of those considerations and expectations.”

Prescott’s ROTC Cyber Team Earns Top Prize

A total of 22 teams participated in the CTF competition this year comprising industry professionals, government employees, Department of Defense (DoD) personnel and students. For the second consecutive year, Embry-Riddle’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 028’s Cyber Team earned first place overall.

After more than eight hours of competition, the AFROTC Cyber Team was designated the “Best Student Team” in addition to earning highest overall score from all participants.

“Being able to participate in the Cyber Rodeo was a wonderful opportunity,” said cadet Carson Tucker, member of the AFROTC Cyber Team. “From working under pressure to leading a highly technical team, the skills I’ve learned here will be very applicable in my career.”

Joining Tucker on the AFROTC Detachment 028 Cyber Team were cadets Payton Macias and Connor Brennan.

“Our ACI community of interest truly sees Embry-Riddle’s Cyber Rodeo as a fun, interactive opportunity,” said Veronica Bunn, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) information technology manager and the ACI Rodeo director who sponsors ACI Cyber Rodeo events around the U.S. “We thank Embry-Riddle for their continual support and forging collaboration and networking amongst our aviation partners.”

Posted In: Aviation | Security Intelligence and Safety