July 17, 2024

The Health

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USF engineering graduate student takes top prize in DoD’s national cybersecurity competition

The Department of Defense challenged the country’s top cybersecurity minds to compete
in a skills competition and USF Cybersecurity graduate student student and CyberHerd team captain Waseem Albaba came out on top during the spring 2024 event.

The DoD’s Cyber Sentinel Skills Challenge invites any U.S. citizen 18 and older to apply for entry. Around 3,000 competitors,
including seasoned industry veterans and university students, logged on for the 8-hour
capture-the-flag (CTF) contest.

Taking a top prize – with a cash reward between $500 and $5,000 – puts winners in
an elite class of cybersecurity pros.

For Albaba, it’s proof that educational opportunities paired with a dedication to
the craft are a recipe for success.

“I am honored to have won the DOD Cyber Sentinel CTF and am deeply grateful for the
support of my coaches and my school,” Albaba said, adding that a little luck never
hurts. “The competition’s focus on topics in which I tend to be good at played a significant
role in my success.”

During the competition, participants are given real-world challenges that require
in-demand skillsets. The DoD said the tests measure understanding of technical, analytical
and strategic abilities in forensics, web security, reverse engineering, reconnaissance
and malware analysis.

The DoD says “the competition is designed to identify individuals interested in pursuing
a cybersecurity career with the DoD,” but it also highlights the agency’s focus on
ongoing improvement of human cybersecurity skills.

While pursuing a master’s degree in cybersecurity from the USF College of Engineering,
Albaba is an offensive security engineer at Trace3. His plans do not currently include employment at the DoD, but he sees the Department’s
competitions as an ongoing opportunity to grow.

“I eagerly anticipate participating in more competitions like this in the future,”
he said.

Another part of Albaba’s ongoing growth in cybersecurity skills is his leadership
role in the CyberHerd competition team. Team coach and faculty member Marbin Pazos
Revilla pointed out the everchanging landscape of cyber defense.

“The cybersecurity landscape has evolved very rapidly over the past several years,
and the challenges we face as a nation and globally demand critical thinking and a
broad set of cybersecurity skills,” Pazos Revilla said. “The DoD Cyber Sentinel Challenge
demanded these skills as a clear representation of real-world scenarios, and I extremely
proud that our USF CyberHerd Team Captain Waseem Albaba took home the First Place
Award. This is also a very encouraging sign reflecting on the strategic decisions
and investments our institution has placed in cybersecurity education.”

Team faculty advisor and faculty member Sriram Chellapan added that the formation
of the CyberHerd team was a response to the growing need for graduates to be seen
as skilled cybersecurity professionals.

“The CyberHerd team was formed in 2023 August, specifically geared to improve the
competitive mindset of our students to thrive in a high-risk high-reward field, impacting
National and Global security. This accomplishment from Waseem demonstrates our strong
commitment towards student success,” Chellapan said.