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UNM graduate students Valerie Lipinski, middle left, and Dustin Allen, middle right, help Sandia High School junior Jordon Fulton, left, and Daniel McKinney with their work Saturday at the Cyberpatriot Competition. Lipinski and Allen are members of UNM’s Network Exploitation Security Team, which recently launched and is an UNM organization for students who are interested in information systems and security fields.

Cyber-security group focuses on networking

UNM students have taken a stance against cybercrime.

Graduate students from the Anderson School of Management launched the Network Exploitation Security Team this semester as part of that school’s Information Assurance program.

NEST president Catherine Zittlosen said the organization aims to promote real-life skills among students interested in cyber-security and to help them in their career paths.

“We want people to learn technical skills that they might not otherwise learn in the classroom, and also meet professional contacts, which can be huge for finding a job later,” she said. “It’s all about networking.”

Zittlosen said her classmates and she were inspired to start the club after attending the Rocky Mountain Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in Denver in March, where they were given a fictitious business network to defend from cyber-attacks.

NEST Vice President Ruth Karkiewicz said the competition made them eager to start the club and to bring the experience to other students.

“A lot of us had kind of thought about trying to start a group, but it wasn’t really until we went on a competition that we got really excited by our experience,” she said. “It’s one thing learning something in the classroom, and another thing being put in a real world situation. And we took so much out of it that we thought, ‘You know what? A lot of other people could benefit from this.’”

In addition to participating in competitions, the group attends and hosts conferences, Karkiewicz said. She said they group has been blessed with finding many mentors, who range from professors at UNM to members of the New Mexico Technology Council.

The group has been acting as mentors for high school students and would like to start helping the community by offering security assessments to local businesses in which they would check for vulnerabilities in their networks, she said.

Colin Williams, a NEST member and undergraduate student in engineering, said that information security is important due to people’s growing global reliance on computers.

“The world is increasingly being run by computers, particularly the business world,” he said. “With so many business critical tasks being delegated to computers, it would be a great catastrophe if someone managed to disrupt those and cost businesses a large amount of money.”

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Any UNM students interested in information security are invited to join NEST, which currently has around 20 members.

While a tech background is helpful, it is not required, Zitlossen said.

NEST faculty adviser Alex Seazzu said the diverse backgrounds of the students are what make the organization work so well.

“What I find most exciting about the group is that they are bringing together students from different backgrounds to look at cyber-security challenges,” he said. “With such an interdisciplinary approach, they can really leverage each member’s expertise or line of study, from computer science to information assurance, accounting and behavioral sciences.”

Karkiewicz said she agrees that the group’s diversity of knowledge makes it run well and encourages students who might be hesitant about getting into the technology sector to give it a try.

“Looking back, if someone would have told me two, three years ago, ‘Ruth, you’re going to be doing something in the tech field,’ I would have been like ‘No,’” she said while shaking her head and laughing.

However, Karkiewicz said she took a couple of technology classes and fell in love with the field. She said she appreciates the opportunities NEST has given her and wants to extend those benefits to other students.

“I think it’s just to give people a really good taste of what they may end up experiencing later on once they start their careers,” she said.

NEST meets every other Sunday at 5:30 p.m. in the Isleta Room at the Student Union Building.

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