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Three days with the cyber elite

Collegiate cyber champs visit national IT security experts during Washington, DC, tour

The NCCDC student champions meet with Rob Joyce, White House cybersecurity coordinator, and J.P. Parker, the vice president's cyber adviser, to discuss how they got started in the field.

It was a sure sign that these students were champions: an invitation to the White House.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County “Cyber Dawgs” — an eight-student team that won this year’s National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in April, took a victory lap through some of the most prestigious venues in Washington, including the White House and the nation's top cyber research and security sites. The tour was hosted by Raytheon, which presents NCCDC every year.

NCCDC, founded in 2005, pits student teams from across the country against each other as they manage a network infrastructure similar to those in the commercial sector.

“Winning NCCDC requires these students to work and study hard,” said Jeff Jacoby, Raytheon director of cybersecurity and special missions. “This trip let the students meet elite cybersecurity professionals in the government and industry, and experience first-hand how the experts protect sensitive data from bad actors.”

The student champions began their tour with Raytheon cybersecurity experts in Dulles, Virginia, where they heard about the latest techniques and technology. They walked through Raytheon’s Cyber Operations and Development Center, where software and systems are tested by exposing them to realistic cyber threats.

“We got to see a red team and blue team battle it out,” said Bryan Vanek, UMBC Cyber Defense Club president. “It was cool to talk to the team and see some of the results.”

Next stop: the White House. There, the team met for about an hour with White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce and J.P. Parker, Vice President Pence’s cyber special adviser.

“Rob Joyce was beaming through the whole meeting, and he really wanted to know what we had to say,” Vanek said.

Joyce shared his perspective on the state of the cyber threat.

“When you look at cybersecurity, the challenge we have is figuring out how to change the scope of the threat,” Joyce told the students. “We need to make it so cybersecurity crimes are not profitable for criminals and not reasonable for nation-states.”

On the second day of the tour, the students visited the U.S. House of Representatives Cybersecurity Operations Center.

“It's really cool to be at the pointy end of the spear,” said Randy Vickers, the center's deputy chief information officer.

Best in Show

Vanek's favorite stop was the U.S. Secret Service’s James J. Rowley Training Center, where students rode shotgun in souped-up Dodge Chargers as agents demonstrated evasive driving maneuvers on a closed track.

“Some of our guys were speculating what life would be like as a Secret Service agent; they had that much fun,” said Charles Nicholas, UMBC professor of computer science.

They toured CIA headquarters on the following day, visiting its network operations center. Andrew Hallman, CIA deputy director, digital innovations directorate, answered student questions. “Cyber knows no geography and knows no bounds,” he told them.

The final stop was at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cyber Crime Center.

The trip gave the students real perspective on the range of cyber career possibilities, according to Nicholas.

“This country cannot afford to let talent go untapped,” he said. “The need for cyber talent is well understood, and nobody should be left on the sideline.”

Last Updated: 09/18/2017

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