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University of Washington Wins National Cyber Defense Challenge

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WASHINGTON, Monday, April 18, 2011 ­– The University of Washington’s Computer Science and Engineering Cyber Defense Team won first place in the 6th annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Challenge (NCCDC), with Texas A&M following in second place and the University of Louisville in third.

The three-day challenge was held April 8-10th at the Hilton San Antonio Hotel. The competition was created in 2005 to spur regular cyber security exercises amongst post-secondary level students. The contestants are made up of winning teams from each regional challenge, with nine teams competing in this year’s challenge.

Each group must manage a hypothetical network, which imitates the infrastructure of a mid-size company of approximately 50 users, utilizing 7 to 10 servers and Internet services including web servers, mail servers and e-commerce sites. Judges score the teams on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats, maintain Internet services and balance business and security needs.

The approximately 250 NCCDC volunteers, administrators and participants are organized into teams, each categorized by a separate color. The red team is composed of security personnel professionals and penetration testers who simulate the “bad guys” by playing hacker, throwing curve balls and attempting to break into each University network. Other teams include the white team, which evaluates team performance, and the black team, which provides technical and administrative support.

Each university team is given a room with a number of computers, tables and white boards. Two judges remain in each room at all times to both score the team as well as make sure no rules are broken.

“We worked well as a team,” says Baron Von Oldenburg, a junior computer engineering major and member of the UW cyber defense team. “When tension did arise, we did a good job of diffusing the situation without pointing fingers.”

In addition to promoting IT education, for many students the competition proves an excellent networking opportunity. Von Oldenburg said three different companies have approached him since the competition, all relating to job opportunities. Alumni from the UW team have gone on to work for Google Security, Apple and Microsoft.

This is UW’s first NCCDC win, and their fourth time winning the Pacific Rim Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC). The team is self-funded and self-organized. To prepare, team captain Alexei Czeskis took the team down to train at UW’s Tacoma campus.

“We wanted to make sure we had all of our bases covered,” says Czeskis.

“The top three teams all exhibit good time management skills, technical skills, and the ability to balance defending their networks from live attacks and responding to the business tasks we presented to them,” says CCDC director Dwayne Williams.

Due to the perpetual advancing teachnology industry, the competition has changed drastically over its short five-years.

“Each year the competition evolves and becomes more difficult,” says Williams. “We add more equipment, new technologies, increased the amount of work we expect the teams to do, and so on.  We've seen a dramatic increase in the skills and capabilities of the teams coming to the National CCDC. We've had to basically make it much harder so we can continue to challenge them.”

Additional contestants this year hailed from DePaul University, Montana Tech, Northeastern University, Towson University, and Cal Poly Pomona.

The University of Washington brought the Alamo Cup, the challenge’s coveted trophy, back to Seattle, where it will be displayed at the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering until next year’s competition

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