The eight-member UCF team that started as a grassroots effort to educate the community about cyber attacks and how to defend against them was just named the best cyber defense team in the nation.

The team placed first in the Raytheon National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition edging out the Rochester Institute of Technology, which placed second and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, which took third.

There is no cash prize, but the UCF team had its photo displayed in Times Square this week in recognition of its excellence. The students also will be flown in to tour Raytheon’s Government Cyber Operations center near Washington, D.C., this summer.

Raytheon and other organizations interested in enhancing cybersecurity, including U.S. Homeland Security, McAfee, Boeing, Walmart and Amazon, among others, sponsored this year’s competition. The competition, in its ninth year, was organized to help students gain hands-on experience that merges theory and practice, to create awareness about cyber defense and to give higher education institutions a way to gauge the effectiveness of their programs.

UCF’s team beat nine other regional winners at the two-day competition in San Antonio, including the Air Force Academy, the University of California, Berkeley, and Western Washington University. In 2013, the first year the UCF team competed – it took 10th place in the nation.

“The team’s strength lies in their teamwork, cross-training, and dedication to continue learning and improving. Seeing UCF bring home the Alamo Cup (championship trophy) is priceless,” said Thomas Nedorost, the teams’ faculty sponsor and a computer science lecturer. “I am proud and honored to be able to work with this extremely talented group of students.”

The team members are Carlos Beltran, Alexander Davis, Kevin DiClemente, Grant Hernandez, Austin Brogle, Jason Cooper, Mark Ignacio and Troy Micka.

On the flight home, instead of celebrating, team members began strategizing for next year’s competition, Nedorost said.

In the competition, each team acted as the information technology department for a small business. Students attempted to keep their businesses running while fending off cyber attacks from a team of 20 professional hackers.  The student teams had to keep the business operations functioning while defending against multiple attacks.

The club was founded in 2012  with the goal of fostering an information security-aware generation in Central Florida. The club hosts weekly meetings to educate the public. A small group within the club focuses on competition. The team won the regional contest in March to get the bid to nationals.

Because of recent cyber attacks against Target and Neiman Marcus, where credit card and other personal information was stolen, to basic risks such as not securing a Wi-Fi connection at home, the team tries to educate the public by dropping the technical jargon and offering tips the average person can use.

The team’s skills and outreach activities are drawing the attention of local industry. Other security professionals, such as Grooveshark, Raytheon, and Protiviti, have presented to the club this year.