In recognition of Georgia Tech’s 2021 Codebreaker Challenge victory, a team from National Security Agency’s (NSA) Academic Outreach team jointly hosted an in-person celebration at Georgia Institute of Technology’s CODA Tech Square with Georgia Tech’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy.
The NSA Codebreaker Challenge (CBC) is an annual cryptanalysis and reverse engineering event that offers students at U.S.-based schools an opportunity to experience a realistic NSA mission-centric scenario typifying the work that NSA experts perform daily in defense of the Nation. This year’s CBC involved a fictitious compromise to the defense industrial base – requiring strengthened skills in forensics, reverse engineering, protocol analysis, cryptanalysis, software development, and vulnerability research and exploitation.
Pamela Jock, Chief of NSA Academic Engagement, formally recognized Georgia Tech’s eight CBC solvers in a letter of recognition, which she presented to solver and team lead Dr. Wen Xu.
“Every year, less than 1% of participants solve the codebreaker challenge – this year, Georgia Tech had eight solvers,” Jock said. “That shows the depth of the dedication from Georgia Tech and the talent you have at this school. Our director, General Nakasone, says that ‘Cyber is a team sport’ and this win by Georgia Tech is an example of that.”
Richard Demillo, chair of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Cybersecurity and Privacy added, “We try to immerse our students in real-world challenges facing cybersecurity professionals and our continued success tells me we are meeting that goal.”
The hybrid celebration concluded with a rare networking opportunity between NSA employees and students from Georgia Tech and Buford High School.
In addition to the networking event, the celebration included an opportunity to engage with an onsite NSA recruiter, a discussion of the 2021 challenge with CBC’s lead developer, a presentation current NSA’s cybersecurity research projects that new hires could assist on if selected for a summer internship and a moderated career panel discussion with NSA experts.
“There is so much going on at NSA and so many career opportunities,” said a panelist who came to NSA through DoD’s Scholarship for Service. “I realized it [when I got here] that my job wasn’t just about what I could learn from my team, but what my team members could learn from me.”
The 2021 CBC ceremony officially concluded with the trophy presentation, in which Colonel Richard Malaga, Commander of NSA-Georgia, presented the trophy to Charles Isbell, Dean of Computing and The John P. Imlay Chair.
“Investing in our nation’s next generation of cybersecurity professionals has never been more important,” Malaga said, reminding the audience of why NSA hosts events like the 2021 CBC.
Dr. Isbell amplified the celebration’s sentiments.
“I am pleased, but not surprised, that our students did so well in the Codebreaker Challenge” said Isbell. “We have worked hard to make Georgia Tech one of the best cybersecurity programs in the country, and a large part of that is that we have top-notch students who constantly push themselves [and us] to do even better.”