KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University students Kane Greer of Kalamazoo and Evelyn Ortiz-Martinez of Chelsea placed second overall as a team at a cybersecurity competition sponsored by the Temple University’s Cybersecurity in Application, Research and Education (CAREs) lab held June 2 to 4. The competition focused a growing area of cyber-crimes—romance scams—and included both undergraduate and graduate students from U.S. universities.
Greer and Ortiz-Martinez are both undergraduate students in WMU’s cybersecurity major, an interdisciplinary program offered by Western’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Haworth College of Business.
“The competition overall was a great mix of both technical skill and social complexities, providing us a way to apply our skills in an everyday way that can help benefit those around us,” says Greer.
Teams of two-to-four college students acted as fraud fighters to uncover a romance scam where individuals pretend to be someone else to manipulate a victim into falling in love with them and sending them money. By design, the students must work independently.
“They put their best foot forward and excelled beyond anything I initially expected,” says Katie Marshall, faculty specialist of computer information systems and faculty advisor to the WMU Cybersecurity Club. “Kane and Evey have really stepped up in leadership roles within the program, and that truly shows with this result.”
To uncover the scam and find a solution, Greer and Ortiz-Martinez spent three days working on and presenting the case.
- Day 1 involved speaking with the victims and their families and friends to learn what had transpired and what clues existed.
- Day 2 required the team to take on the role of the victim and communicate with the scammer to elicit information helpful to the investigation.
- Day 3 was a formal session with judges where Greer and Ortiz-Martinez presented their evidence and proof of the scammer’s actions and intent.
“During our feedback sessions, the judges were very much impressed with how we handled the victim with care and that the way we approached her and supported her helped us gather the information we needed,” says Ortiz-Martinez.
The duo’s success also encompasses academic preparation and previous experience in the classroom and as part of the Bronco Cybersecurity Club, where Greer and Ortiz-Martinez have competed together previously.
“I believe what stood out to the judges of the competition was how quickly we adapted to situations that were thrown at us, being able to really harness the character of the victim, be personable and caring for those around us as well as our delivery of information and evidence, which consisted of psychological manipulation techniques, inconsistencies within their communication, and overall red flags,” says Greer.
Each year, Temple’s CAREs lab holds Summer Social Engineering competitions: one for high school students and another for undergraduate and graduate students with a new topic. Social engineering in the context of cybersecurity is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.
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