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The University of Central Florida's Cyber Defense Team Trains the Cybersecurity Workforce of Tomorrow

Photo: Markus Spiske
Photo: Markus Spiske

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the cybersecurity field will grow by 31 percent by 2029. Yet, there’s a deficit when it comes to skilled workers who can fill these jobs. 

That’s where the UCF Cyber Defense Team comes in. Students participate in real-world hacking competitions that prepare them to protect Florida’s network infrastructure.

WMFE spoke with UCF’s Tom Nedorost and captain Michael Roberts about winning this year’s Collegiate competition and their 100 percent placement rate.

Read the full interview below.

Danielle: Tom, the DC Police Department was hacked just over the weekend. Can you tell me about why these cybersecurity skills students are learning through UCF's Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition Team, why are they so important right now for our safety?

Tom: Across the country companies have been breached by rogue actors. And what we have is a real shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals to help protect the companies from these and just even to review company networks in systems to make sure that they are as secure as possible.

Danielle: What kinds of skills do the kids take away from being on the Cyber Defense Team with you? And what's the placement rate like for them after?

Tom: They're learning a lot about system security, securing networks, operating systems. And how the the hackers or the rogue agents gain access. So they know where to look on a computer system or in a network for intrusions by other, you know, malicious actors. As far as placement rate goes, it's been 100%.

Danielle: Yeah, that's incredible. That was not the case for me as an English major. Michael, can you describe for me the experience of winning the UCF Collegiate Defense Competition, I know you faced hackers for 16 hours.

Michael: It was very exciting to win the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, we had to defend from some very good hackers for 16 and a half hours. And we had to complete a variety of difficult tasks while being attacked, and also keep our business operational. So it's a very rewarding experience, it's very difficult to win. And then we were very glad to come out on top.

Danielle: Can I ask you what made you go into the field? What do you love about it?

Michael: I love the changes every day, something is new. Every day, I have to learn more I have to I have to grow and push myself to be better. Because the other side the the attackers, the hackers are always getting better themselves. So I love the continued learning.

Danielle: Tom, last night, we heard President Joe Biden actually in his joint address to Congress talk about the importance of, you know, countries that out educate us are the ones that are going to outperform us, basically. So what do you think needs to be done to improve cybersecurity education at the college level?

Tom: Cybersecurity encompasses a lot of different areas. This was one where we did defending networks.

You have the other side not necessarily hackers, but we have professional penetration testers. And they're on the offensive side. They're kind of like the hacker, but they work for the company to look for those loopholes or the gaps in security within the company.

And then you have policy analysts that are not so much hands on the keyboard, but they're formulating policies and regulations.

So really, we need to broaden people with skills in all those areas coming out of our colleges and universities. And opportunities like the national Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition allow students really on both sides, the offensive and defensive skills to get hands-on experience in a very realistic simulation.

I think that's what we need more of, there's only so much you can do by lecturing and reading books. So getting those hands-on skills, through your your college experiences and through internships are a great way to prepare students for the workforce.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.