DePaul ranks second in annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

DePaul’s student Cybersecurity team placed second in the 16th annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC), the largest cybersecurity competition in the nation. This year’s tournament brought together both graduate and undergraduate students from over 165 colleges and universities to compete for the annual cup.

The national championship was held virtually from April 23-25. DePaul came second to the University of Central Florida and beat George Mason University, who placed third.

The NCCDC is hosted by the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The competition assesses students’ understanding and competence when managing challenges inherent in protecting a corporate network infrastructure and business information systems. 

The event gives cybersecurity students from colleges across the country a chance to test their skills in information assurance or computer security in a controlled competitive environment. 

The competition stages a simulated cyberattack against a fictional business network. The competition’s cyberattacks imitate real world threats by using white hat hackers intent on disrupting competitor systems. Teams must keep the day-to-day operations of their organization going by completing everyday tasks while fending off ongoing attacks. 

Teams assume administrative and protective duties for their commercial network — typically a small company of 50 users, under 10 servers and common internet services like a web or mail server and e-commerce site. Students had to work together to develop solutions to the threat against their company’s “home office” and systems while protecting intellectual property, customer data and employee records. 

Each team begins the competition with an identical set of hardware and software and are scored on their ability to detect and respond to outside threats while maintaining their existing services. They must also respond to business requests including adding or removing additional services and have to balance security and business needs.  

An automated scoring engine is used throughout the competition to assess the progress of each team’s services. Generators feed simulated user traffic into the competition network and provide the “external threat” real internet-based services face. 

According to the official NCCDC site, the competition also lets students “foster a spirit of teamwork, ethical behavior, and effective communication both within and across teams and create interest and awareness among participating institutions and students.”

The competition is sponsored by numerous organizations, including the CIA, Walmart Global Tech and Boeing, to name a few. 

The competition was conceived in 2004 when a group of educators, students and government and industry representatives gathered to discuss establishing regular cyber security exercises for post-secondary level students. 

The NCCDC is unique from other cyber defense competitions because it focuses on managing and protecting an existing network infrastructure. Many other competitions are long term and evaluate a team over the course of a semester. 

While DePaul has participated in the NCDCC in the past, this is the highest the team has ever placed. Last year DePaul was among the top 10 finalists for the first time since 2017. DePaul placed in the top three teams for the first time in 2016 when they came in third place overall.