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Cybersecurity Dynasty: UCF Wins Sixth ‘Super Bowl’ of Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitions

When corporations and government agencies want to hire the nation’s best cybersecurity talent, they recruit at UCF.
By: UCF News | April 30, 2024
From left to right: Thomas Nedorost, Kelsey Hall, Caleb Wisley, Harrison Keating, Milo G., Byron Love (representing sponsor Nightwing, formerly Raython RTX), Noah Magill, Caleb Sjostedt, Joseph Durand, Matthew M., Greg White (one of the competition founders and director of CIAS, which hosts NCCDC).

The Collegiate Cyber Defense Team at UCF, part of Hack@UCF, won their record sixth national championship last weekend, defeating nine other regional champions to win the 2024 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC). The team returned home with the Alamo Cup trophy in the event presented by the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

More than 2,100 competitors from 198 schools participated in events across the country during NCCDC regional events, with the top 10 teams advancing to the national championship.

As one of the nation’s largest collegiate competitions of its kind, this year’s NCCDC tasked competitors with the scenario of managing, operating and defending the network infrastructure of a human resource outsourcing firm while responding to business tasks, customers, and fending off a group of live Red Team hackers.

“With our successful track record in the National CCDC and other cyber competitions over the years, it’s an undeniable fact that UCF has the best cyber program, best students, and best coaches in the nation,” said Professor Tom Nedorost, head coach of the team.

The competition’s unique focus on operational aspects of managing and protecting a network infrastructure is designed to assess each student’s depth of understanding and operational competency. The NCCDC is more than just a competitive environment though, as hundreds of volunteers work closely with participating competitors throughout the year to help develop their professional networks and provide mentorship.

Through these competitions, students gain skills and real-world experiences that make them highly attractive to potential employers.

It was this specific competition that led Harrison Keating to UCF. As a high school student in St. Augustine, Florida, he enjoyed building websites and began looking at the competitions held at the college level. When he realized that UCF had a track record of winning them, he made sure that his campus visit to UCF included a stop at the Hack@UCF cybersecurity club. He enrolled, and landed a spot as an alternate on the team that he now leads as captain.

“The NCCDC is a two-day event,” Keating said. “At the beginning of day two, we were in third in one category and didn’t place in the other three. At that point, victory didn’t seem to be a possibility, Morale was low, but the team did an amazing job to find the silver lining, persevere and figuring out a way to improve in day two. Going from that position to national champions in a day was an incredible testament to the team’s determination.”

Keating and several of the team members will graduate this week in commencement ceremonies at UCF.

“The scenario we developed for this elite group of students is very realistic,” said Dwayne Williams, Director of the NCCDC and associate director at the CIAS. “The primary challenge this year is securing large amounts of personally identifiable information across different industries and states, but also dealing with a company acquisition while being targeted by bad actors. These unique challenges and hands-on experiences help each of these teams prepare for the real-world scenarios they will face after graduation.”

Story from Cybersecurity Dynasty: UCF Wins Sixth ‘Super Bowl’ of Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitions by Margot Winick for UCF Today