Victory tour for Virginia team

College cyber contest champs visit DC’s top cyber venues

NCCDC winners in Washington.

Inside the U.S. Capitol, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner congratulate the University of Virginia students on their 2019 NCCDC championship.

It was a Who’s Who of cyber experts from the Secret Service and a host of alphabet agencies: NSA, CIA, DHS, FBI, DoD, and DARPA, as well as think tank researchers and elected officials. 

Those were the experts taking meetings with the 11-member student cyber team from the University of Virginia, winners of the 2019 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. The defending champion Virginia team took a victory lap of sorts around Washington, D.C., visiting some of the nation’s most prestigious cyber research and security sites. The tour was hosted by Raytheon, which presents NCCDC every year.

“This was a great opportunity to not only see how the skills we developed in competition are used in combating real-world threats, but also to see real life examples of how cybersecurity has to interact with other disciplines in order to be effective,” said Will Mayes, a UVA team member.

NCCDC, founded in 2005, pits student teams from across the country against each other to fend off cyber attacks against a network infrastructure similar to those in the commercial sector.

One of the more memorable stops for the students was meeting Chris Krebs, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency director at the Department of Homeland Security, and a fellow University of Virginia alum.

“When high-profile leaders take time out of their day to have conversations that go deep into their organization and explain what they do, that’s a really cool experience that the general public doesn’t always get to have,” said Jake Smith, a team member and Raytheon intern.

The Virginia team also met with Dana Deasy, U.S. Department of Defense chief information officer, and his deputy, Essye Miller. That meeting at the Pentagon included a discussion surrounding current cybersecurity issues and what the future looks like for the department and those who will eventually work within it.

“It was inspiring to be able to put a face to the names and personalize the government,” said Caroline Linkous, a Virginia team member. “It’s important to recognize that these people and agencies are not stagnant in what they’re doing – they’re excited about innovation and the next level of technology.”

As has been the case in past NCCDC winner tours, the CIA and Secret Service tours were among the favorite stops for the students. They toured the CIA Museum and visited the Cyber Security Operations Center.

The Secret Service Training Center was special for a different reason — the cars. Cybersecurity may not have been on their minds as the team raced around the Secret Service’s training track in Dodge Chargers at 60 mph, while agents practiced evasive driving tactics.

Other notable stops included: tours of the NSA and FBI, and participating in the “Hack Race” at one of Raytheon’s local offices, where the students competed against each other in mini-cyber challenges.

“This tour really highlighted the importance of the avenues between the private and public sector that exist in the field of cybersecurity,” Smith said. “It’s crucial that we all work together to defend against the advanced threats facing our society today.”

The winner’s tour also included a stop at Capitol Hill, where the students met with Virginia legislators Sen. Mark Warner, Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Denver Riggleman.

After their meetings, the University of Virginia students discussed why they felt the tour was important: It gave them visibility into these government agencies and for some, changed the way they thought about their future career paths in cyber.

“My goal in the future is to do something important,” said Sam Spelsberg, another UVA team member. “This was one of the first times where I felt I was surrounded by people who are so driven by a mission or goal, and it’s extremely compelling.”

Published On: 07/23/2019
Last Updated: 07/24/2019