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ADELPHI, Md. (Sept. 28, 2016)–A team of graduate and undergraduate students from University of Maryland University College (UMUC) has advanced to the final round of the 2016 National Cyber Analyst Challenge (NCAC), a competition created in 2015 by Lockheed Martin and Temple University's Institute for Business and Information Technology (IBIT) to fill the ever-growing need for cyber analysts. 

The five-member team, led by Jesse Varsalone, UMUC faculty advisor and associate professor of Computer Networks and Cybersecurity, competed against squads from 19 other colleges and universities, all vying for a $25,000 grand prize. As a qualifier for the finals, the UMUC team received the Silver award of $6,000 and an invitation to the championship, which will take place in Washington D.C., October 27-28, 2016.

Now in its second year, the three-month, multi-phase competition includes undergraduate and master’s students studying information systems, computer science and engineering, and encourages the development of strategic skills involving analysis, threat identification and mitigation planning.

UMUC’s team, known as the Cyber Padawans, includes: graduate students Nik Roby, Patrick Gill (UMUC staff) and Michael Williams, and undergraduate students Bennett Tomlinson and Chris McBee, who was a member of the UMUC Cyber Padawans that won the 2014 Global CyberLympics in Barcelona, Spain.

The first phase of the National Cyber Analyst Challenge involved analysis of a complex real-world case created by cybersecurity experts at Lockheed Martin. Participating teams received documents pertaining to a fabricated company and files that were meant to replicate a report issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. UMUC students used off-the-shelf, open source tools to parse logs and examine the dependencies for files. All entries were reviewed by a panel of industry experts and scored on presentation, incident and content analysis, and technical accuracy and skills.

“Advancing in the NCAC competition is particularly gratifying because it demonstrates UMUC’s commitment to helping students develop the skills needed for a cybersecurity career that focuses on analysis and threat identification,” said Varsalone.

“Many of today’s competitions focus on red teaming, but in the cybersecurity arena, there are far fewer jobs in offense than in defense, so preparing for and succeeding in this event aligns with the skills that most employers require,” he added.

Ten schools have moved on to the remaining phases of competition.  In addition to UMUC, they are Carnegie Mellon University, Howard University, Iowa State University, Penn State University, Syracuse University, Temple University, University of South Florida, University of Texas at San Antonio, and Villanova University.

Phase 2, is a cyber training program for all teams. During the Phase 3 finals, a real-time practical challenge, UMUC’s Varsalone will deliver a presentation on building a virtualized network that can be used to prepare for cyber competitions.