On tour: cyber champs in Washington

NCCDC winners meet with policy makers and cybersecurity experts

Photo of three students on a congressional tram

Roman Bohuk (center) takes a selfie with his University of Virginia NCCDC teammates on the Capitol Hill train, which runs between buildings.

They are unlikely policy wonks.

The six members of the University of Virginia team that won the 2018 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition think the policy side of cybersecurity is “awesome.”

On tour in Washington, D.C., in July, courtesy of NCCDC sponsor Raytheon, the team met with cyber experts from the White House, CIA, NSA, Defense Department and think tanks, as well as with elected officials.

“I really didn’t grasp the importance of the policy side of cybersecurity until we went on Raytheon’s tour,” said team captain Mariah Kenny. “I learned that the policy side and the technical side really need to communicate if we’re going to make our country secure against cyber threats.”

The tour included stops at the think tanks New America and Center for Strategic & International Studies, visits that the students said were among the most enlightening.

“The government agencies were great to see and visit, but the think tanks; Wow!" said Kenny. "They had so many representatives from all sorts cyber sectors. It was really neat to hear the different perspectives, the different backgrounds and the stories they had to tell. It really opened my eyes to all of the potential career paths available to me.”

As in past years, the Secret Service Training Center was a big hit with the students.

“They took us out in these souped-up Dodge Chargers," Kenny said. "I had a training instructor talking to me very casually as he drove 60 mph — in reverse — and then he pulls this J turn and, all of sudden, is driving forward again. It was crazy.”

Other highlights: meetings with Pentagon’s chief information officer and White House chief information officer, and tours of the CIA and NSA.

“I gained a clearer and more complete picture of the cybersecurity field by viewing it from the government perspective, noticing things I never saw in the private sector,” said team member Roman Bohuk. 

The team also toured Raytheon’s Dulles offices, visiting the CODE center cyber range, used to test existing and future mission-critical systems against cyber attacks. Anf their coding skills were challenged in a “Cyber Escape Room."

“My favorite events were the CIA and Raytheon's CODE center tour," said team member Daniel Chen. "They both gave me great insight into their missions are and how they approach cybersecurity-related issues.”

The team visited Capitol Hill, meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Virginia. 

“Meeting with our elected officials was both really interesting and reassuring,” Kenny said. “It’s reassuring to know that they want to hear from their constituents.”

The students also met Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.

“The governor asked me what he could do for Virginia to make it safe against cyber attacks," Kenny said. "He asked me what can he could do to improve educational opportunities in Virginia for students interested in cyber, especially for women.”

According to NCCDC Director Dwayne Williams, the tour is an important occasion for winning teams.

“Sure, you get a trophy and bragging rights for a year, but you don’t get a car or prizes,” Williams said. “The tour is the real feather in your cap...They met the CIOs of the White House and DoD. They walked and talked to a senator. These are very unique experience, and this is probably the best tour yet.”

Last Updated: 11/01/2018