Cyber Talk Radio: Cyber Competitions at UTSA

Bret Piatt, CTR host, and Dwayne Williams, associate director of technology and research at UTSA's Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) - Episode 166 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, November 30, episode 166 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I sat down with Dwayne Williams, associate director of technology and research at the University of Texas at San Antonio's (UTSA) Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS), to discuss creating nationwide programs such as CyberPatriot and the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) is the first intercollegiate cyber competition (I emphasize to students that cybersecurity is a field with a 0% unemployment rate!). I ask Dwayne, how did he get interested in cybersecurity? He went to Baylor University and tried out psychology before he decided on computer science and joined the ROTC. He then went into the Air Force doing information security. After serving, he was in commercial consulting, where he met Dr. Geg White, who has been a guest on this show multiple times, and then worked at UTSA doing research. They eventually created the CCDC, which started 15 years ago to let colleges and universities compare their talent and compete in cyber competition. The first NCCDC event in 2005 had only five teams, and their most recent competition this year had 308 teams, with around 3,700 total students! UTSA also helped found and owns the software for CyberPatriot, a team competition for high school students. Both of these types of competitions help students trying to “go pro” and gain visibility with employers and recruiters in the cyber industry. Dwayne emphasizes that when an employer sees NCCDC on a resume, it automatically gives them a boost in their job search because it’s real hands-on experience that makes them more valuable employees. How have they kept the program growing? The rely completely by word-of-mouth in the academic and cyber worlds — Dwayne is always impressed by how enthusiastic people are about it. Before the break, Dwayne goes over the nitty gritty logistics of how the competitions are run.

After the break, I have Dwayne go over the types of skills that students need to reach the NCCDC national championship. They need to have adaptability in different types of industries and systems, which are randomized within the competition (students never know what they’re going to get!). Another way to prepare is by learning older systems and platforms, which can be helpful both in the competition and the real world — not everyone keeps their stuff up to date! Students work with a live, real system, which means that unexpected things can happen. What’s helpful is that students can bring in any accessible, open source or materials on printed out paper that they think they’ll need. Dwayne tells me some amazing success stories for the students who compete, like companies offering competing for job offers in the middle of the competition! Bret thinks that this type of competition should be treated as a sport that can offer scholarships and recruit students. Dwayne’s current goal is to keep expanding the program even further to schools they haven’t yet reached!

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about Dwayne’s vexperience building cyber competitions.

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