Former IRE student proving to be a cybersecurity leader

Isaac Burton, middle, a former Iron Range Engineering student, led his team of "cyber warriors" to several top finishes during the recent National Cyber League competition.

Isaac Burton got his start at Iron Range Engineering in Virginia. The North Dakota State University senior is now proving to be a leader in cybersecurity.

Burton, of Two Harbors, spent his first two years at the IRE program, where he became interested in electrical engineering.

Last summer he was one of 12 undergraduates from across the country selected for the intensive Research Experience for Undergraduates program at NDSU in Fargo. The 10-week initiative teaches students how to research and develop software for attacking, defending and detecting strikes against cyber-physical systems like robots and industrial water and power controllers.

And Burton recently led the school’s gold team (of experienced players) to four top 10 finishes in the National Cyber League’s Fall 2018 competition, placing 19th overall out of 368 teams.

He was captain of the five-member team, which took seventh place nationally in open source intelligence, ninth place in password cracking, eighth place in log analysis and seventh place in network traffic analysis.

Burton also placed 45th out of 3,324 students nationwide in the individual competition.

“Isaac has an extraordinarily bright future ahead of him,” said NDSU Assistant Professor Jeremy Straub, who mentors the NCL team. Straub is also the associate director of the NDSU Institute for Cybersecurity Education and Research.

“College graduates with skills in cybersecurity are in extremely high demand. Those with skills at Isaac’s level can basically write their own ticket,” he said.

During the competition, Burton had to demonstrate his cybersecurity skills in multiple areas including open source intelligence, cryptography, scanning, password cracking, log analysis, network traffic analysis, wireless access and web application exploitation and enumeration and exploitation.

To reach Top 50 status, Burton had to excel in each area, and he earned all of the possible points in several of them.

Participating in NCL is a learning experience as well as a foundation for seeking a job in the field, he said.

“It has helped me display my skills, allowing me to show companies what I can bring to their company,” Burton said. “I’ve learned that learning to work in a team is important to succeed. I enjoy the experience and want to keep experiencing the growth that I have over the last year.”

The NCL was founded in 2011 to provide, according to the organization, “engaging, entertaining, measurable, and scalable methods of learning to enlist a new generation of cybersecurity professionals.”

This is Burton’s third season of competing in the NCL competition. During last year’s fall competition, he placed in the top 15 percent nationwide.

Burton said he is also enjoying mentoring other cybersecurity students. “This is important because I aim to use what I’ve learned to help others improve their skills, too.”

“We are exceptionally proud of Isaac’s individual skills as well as his leadership of the other students on the competition team,” Straub said.

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