Members shine at foiling cyber dark arts; win awards
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Cyber security is a world of “good guys” and “bad guys.”
Three PEF members – professional good guys for New York state agencies by
day – distinguished themselves, as true cyber warriors by night in 2009.
Working on their own time over many months, the team of Nikki Brate, Corey
Harrell and John Griffin placed fourth overall in a global forensic cyber
challenge sponsored by the U.S. Defense Department (DOD).
The three, who all possess multiple certifications in digital security and
forensics, also were key members of a state work group that won the Best of
New York Award, presented September 24, 2009, for “The Most Innovative Use
The team members (competing under the initials DFAC against 1,153 other
competitors) said they were stunned and elated to discover in December they
had scored the most points (1,682) among the civilian, government, military
and commercial teams, which put them at the “genius level” in DOD’s 2009 DC3
Digital Forensic Challenge.
“We are pretty excited about it,” said Brate, PEF Division 268 assistant
council leader and a manager of technology services 1 at the state Insurance
Department in Albany.
Harrell is an information technology specialist (ITS) 2 at the Office of the
state Comptroller in Albany, and Griffin is an ITS 3 in data communications
at the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) in Albany.
“This was something very non-traditional for state employees to do, and it
was our first time to enter this competition. We did it on our own time,
using our own resources,” Brate said. She noted that another of the
top-scoring teams was made up of doctoral students at the U.S. Air Force
“I’m a (salary) grade 27, John is a 23 and Corey is an 18,” Brate said. “We
wanted to show PEF members may have unrecognized skills and abilities. State
employees can teach other state employees a lot.”
The 2009 DC3 Challenge gave the competitors a mock-up of the kind of
evidence an examiner might face in a digital forensics lab. It was up to the
competitors to draw and analyze as much information as possible from the
material and then interpret its significance. The aim is “to stimulate the
digital forensics community to pioneer new investigative tools, techniques
However, The Times of London and other news media have portrayed the DC3
Challenge as an effort to lure into the open potential hackers and gain
insights into their methods and approaches to cyber security.
Brate and Thomas Hurbanek of the NYS Police Cyber Crimes Unit co-chair the
NYS Digital Forensics Work Group that won the 2009 Best of NY Award.
In addition to Brate, Griffin and Harrell, three other PEF members are part
of the work group. They are Margaret (Peg) Acevedo, an ITS 2 at OTDA; Joseph
Pero, an ITS 2 in programming at the state Office for Technical
Administration; and Adnan Baykal, an ITS 3 at the state Office of Cyber
Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination (CSCIC).
The CSCIC sponsors the work group, which brings together digital forensics
professionals from state agencies that gather and work with digital and
multimedia evidence. The aim is to address their disparate methodologies and
improve consistency in the application of international standards of
“As state employees, we need to work collaboratively to solve problems for
the state,” Brate said, “so it won’t need to resort to private consultants.”