University of Central Florida win back-to-back championships

Cyber Knights defend National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition title

Why it matters

The supply of cybersecurity workers is falling short of the demand, which is being driven by a persistent barrage of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, government agencies, large corporations and small businesses.

Currently, there are about 377,00 vacant cyber jobs in the U.S. and 2.7 million globally, according to a report from (ISC)2. (ISC)2 is a non-profit organization that specializes in cyber training and certification programs as well as issues an annual study on cybersecurity workforce trends.

(ISC)2 reports that the global cybersecurity workforce needs to grow 65% to effectively defend organizations’ critical assets.


The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, or NCCDC, is the championship event for the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition system – the largest college-level cyber defense competition in the U.S.

The Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio hosted the first CCDC for the Southwestern region in May 2005 to help facilitate the development of a national-level cybersecurity exercise.

The competition focuses on the operational aspect of managing and protecting an existing network infrastructure and teams are judged based on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats, maintain existing network services, respond to business and customer requests, and balance security needs against business needs in real time.

Raytheon Technologies’ sponsorship dates back to 2014. Over nine years, the company has hired more than 100 students from CCDC and continues to identify top talent through the tournament series.

“As an industry leader in cybersecurity, Raytheon Technologies has an obligation, the responsibility, to be leading the charge to build that next generation of talent for the cybersecurity community, whether they work for us or somebody else...that’s our job,” said Jon Check, RI&S executive director for Cyber Protection Solutions. “I sincerely want to protect our way of life because it's under siege.”

What’s happening

This year, more than 2,000 competitors from171 schools across the country participated in the 17th Annual CCDC in regional competitions. The top 10 colleges and universities, advancing from the regionals and the Wild Card event, competed in the National CCDC.

Their objective at the championship was to protect the network of a fictional company called Capissen Gaming, a brick-and-mortar retailer that diversified into hosting online retro games. A red team of ethical hackers carried out multiple attacks on the 10 schools, called blue teams, using the same tactics and techniques as real-world bad actors. Not only did the teams need to detect and protect their networks, but they also had to keep their network up and have critical services available for users like web access, email servers, online games and an e-commerce site.

By the numbers

In the 17-year history of CCDC –

  • More than 290 schools have competed.
  • Fifty-five schools have advanced to the national championships.
  • Nine schools have won the NCCDC championship.
  • The University of Central Florida first competed in 2013 and have gone to the national championship a record nine times in the past 10 years.
  • UCF have won NCCDC championship five times and finished as the runner-up three times, both records.

What they are saying

“At the national level, these are the very best teams in the nation,” said Dr. Tom Nedorost, coach of Central Florida’s NCCDC team. “I keep saying this every single year: any one of them could win. It’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes and is able to recover the quickest from the ones they do make that gets crowned the winner.“

“When you go into UCF’s room in the thick of battle as the red-teamers are doing their thing, UCF is a machine, a well-oiled machine,” Check said. “They’re focused. The team communicates well, nobody's panicking. Clearly, they work as a team, which is critical when doing cybersecurity. They perform. Preparedness breeds confidence, and in my experience leading large cyber teams, those are the traits that win the day in the real world as well.”

“After people graduate, they tend to stick around and help at practices. Like this year, we had several practices where people came from other states to help. The co-coach of the team competed in NCCDC last year, and he volunteered for the entire year to guide us,” said Aiden Durand, UCF team captain.

“UCF, as far as I’m aware, it is one of the schools that practices the most,” said Christopher Fischer, UCF team co-captain and a RI&S intern who is about to start fulltime at the company. “We spend 15 hours, 20 hours a week practicing and preparing, and we have a group of people who care a whole lot about this competition. They’ve canceled vacations, holidays and family plans to prepare, because that’s kind of what CCDC demands of you. It’s that next level of dedication and caring.

Of note

In addition to the University of Central Florida’s top finish, Dakota State University placed second, and Stanford University placed third. The 10 schools that competed at the championship, by region, include:

What’s next

All eight of the starting members of the University of Central Florida are returning to the school and eligible for next year’s competition.

“I think that we’ll have a really strong team,” Nedorost said. “During the Spring semester, we had a lot of success, not only with NCCDC but many of the other cyber competitions we entered. So, students are getting more passionate about wanting to invest their time and energy into being in our competitions. Interest is very high.”