Sixteen UCF students are headed to Microsoft headquarters this weekend to go head-to-head with their counterparts from across the country in a competition to find the best cyber-warriors.
The students from the Collegiate Cyber Defense Club @ UCF will participate in “Build the Shield,” a national-level competition organized and hosted by Microsoft on its campus in Redmond, Wash.
Microsoft is paying the travel expenses for the UCF teams, flying all 16 students to Washington on Friday. The event is Saturday, and they’ll fly back to Orlando on Sunday.
Microsoft selected 50 teams of competitors for “Build-the-Shield” by putting applicants through a qualifying round. The University of Central Florida fared so well in the qualifier that all four UCF teams, each with four students, were tapped for the competition.
“There are only 50 teams that will be competing nationwide, so to have four is a pretty big achievement,” said Thomas Nedorost, the club’s faculty advisor.
Since the club was formed in 2012, it has shot to the forefront of cyber-defense competitions. Last year, the club’s eight-member team won the Raytheon National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, earning a trip to the White House to meet Vice President Joe Biden.
And on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the UCF students were competing against teams from seven other universities in the Southeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, one of 10 regional showdowns that leads to the national competition.
Nedorost said the group competed in 21 events during the 2014 fall and spring semesters, and is on track to participate in as many as 25 this year.
The students competing Saturday are: Carlos Beltran, Austin Brogle, Conner Brooks, Kevin DiClemente, Mark Ignacio, Alexander Lynch, Cody McMahon, Ditmar Wendt, Kevin Colley, Alexander Davis, Kirk Elifson, Charly Collin, Cory Kinberger, Gabriela Llave, Maxwell Miller and Beckylin Orooji.
Most competitions require competitors to secure and defend a lackluster network from attacks by professional hackers. But “Build the Shield” is different; teams must secure and defend their own network while also attacking those of their competitors.
Microsoft is using the competition to ensure the security of its networks and products. With recent major data breaches at corporate giants including Sony, Target, Home Depot and Anthem, cyber-defense is something more companies are paying attention to.
“The skills they’re using here are skills most corporations would need for their own security departments,” Nedorost said. “Companies are hiring people to make sure their networks are secure so hackers can’t get into them.”
Winners of the Microsoft competition win laptops, Xbox One bundles and tablets – plus a chance to interview with Microsoft for future job opportunities.