The University of Texas at Dallas

Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science


Codebreakers Place 4th in NSA Challenge

Codebreakers Place 4th in NSA Challenge

University of Texas at Dallas students placed fourth in the nation in the 2022 National Security Agency (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge, which asked college students to solve a fictional ransomware attack.

A team of 141 UTD students earned the highest ranking of any Texas team in the semester-long competition, which included more than 5,000 students from 600 U.S. academic institutions. Schools earned points based on the number of participating students who last fall solved nine increasingly difficult tasks to identify attackers and recover files.

The 2022 challenge was UTD’s second year to participate in the competition, which is designed to get students involved in cybersecurity and help the NSA recruit potential interns and employees. In 2021, the team placed eighth nationwide, an achievement that led to internships for several students and a campus visit last fall by NSA officials to discuss the agency’s programs.

Computer science senior David Wank, one of the team’s leaders and an officer of UTD’s student-led Computer Security Group, was one of three Comets who completed all nine tasks. The other students were Neel Pareshbhai Patel and Andrei Racila, computer science graduate students.

“The Codebreaker Challenge is a great way for anyone interested in cybersecurity to get their feet wet without experience,” Wank said. “We’d like to get more students involved.”

Dr. Kangkook Jee, assistant professor of computer science, said the challenge gives students hands-on practice with the type of cybersecurity problems that the NSA addresses. He invites more students to get involved in the 2023 challenge.

“I want to encourage more students to get their hands dirty and try to solve these real-world problems,” Jee said. “We hope to have more students in the next challenge.”

Josh Wiedemeier BS’20, MS’22, a computer science doctoral student and Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellow who competed in the 2021 challenge, coached the 2022 team.

“Even if you’re very new to cybersecurity, you can participate and have a good time,” Wiedemeier said.

For more information about joining the team, contact Jee at [email protected].

A version of this story appeared in News Center.