UNG team is runner-up in NSA competition

The University of North Georgia finished second out of 631 universities and colleges in the 2021 National Security Agency Codebreaker Challenge that wrapped up Jan. 4.

UNG tallied 152,239 points as two Georgia universities stood atop the standings. Georgia Institute of Technology took first place with 234,982 points.

Oregon State University, fellow senior military college Texas A&M University, and the University of Central Florida rounded out the top five.

“This is UNG’s fourth top-three finish in a row in the NSA Codebreaker Challenge, following victories in 2019 and 2020 and a third-place finish in 2018,” Dr. Bryson Payne, UNG professor of cybersecurity and coordinator of student cyber programs, said.

The scenario for this year’s challenge involved responding to a cyber attack on the U.S. Defense Industrial Base Sector (DIBS). The DIBS, according to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, “is the worldwide industrial complex that enables research and development, as well as design, production, delivery, and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems, and components or parts, to meet U.S. military requirements.”

Payne said the challenge called upon 10 different cyber skill sets needed for students to determine how the attack unfolded, if other organizations were affected, and how to reverse the malware.

“Our students came out with the skills they need to compete for jobs at the highest levels of cybersecurity in government and the private sector,” Payne said.

Rocco Ranallo, a fall 2021 graduate with a degree in cybersecurity, saw that dynamic firsthand by earning an internship and now a full-time job at Mass Mutual.

The Blairsville, Georgia, resident completed seven of the 10 tasks in this year’s challenge.

“Participating in the NSA Codebreaker Challenge the past three years has helped me develop skills which are highly sought after in the business of cybersecurity and set me apart from other candidates,” Ranallo said.

Alyssa Hunter, a senior from Young Harris, Georgia, pursuing a degree in cybersecurity, also completed seven tasks and thrived on problem-solving during the challenge.

“This competition has really improved my technical skills,” Hunter said. “Some of the solutions are more challenging, and it helps me appreciate the different techniques we learn here at UNG.”



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