As I’ve been sitting on this plane heading back to San Francisco from the 2014 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), I’ve been trying to come up with one word to encompass my views on this event. This will conclude my fifth year involved in CCDC. The first two I spent as a blue teamer; the latter three as a member of the regional and national red teams. What is it about CCDC that keeps bringing me back? I’m not getting paid nor am I hiring anyone. Yet, I keep returning year after year. I think I get it now.
• an intense desire or enthusiasm for something
Thats the word I’m looking for. Passion.
From my very first year competing, there was something indefinable that pushed me to pour every ounce I had into the competition. Even though at that time I was a junior member of our team, the desire to learn as much as possible was very real. I think this is what professional athletes must experience. There is something beyond your skill that keeps you up at night, fueling your train down the tracks.
And I think the reason CCDC and I have such a strong bond is because it’s one of the rare places where others bring that same energy to the table. All teams (white, red, black, orange, blue, gold) and sponsors are continuously adding to that pool, mixing and stirring a fervency you simply can’t find anywhere else.
This is why the competition is getting better from all angles. The tradecraft is getting refined by all parties. It’s an incredible effort to be a part of.
On that note, I’d like to now take some time and give some positive feedback to individual sets of those involved (both regionally and nationally).
To red teams:
Don’t get complacent in your duty. The blue teams are getting better and as they do, so will we. Our participation, while energetic, is only a single component to this competition. Others are expecting you to challenge blue teams in a way only you can do. Embrace that and play your part. Contribute and coordinate – the more you do, the better your red team will be.
To white/black/gold teams:
Continue to make the competition as real world as you can. It’s easy for those of us who have worked in the security industry to understand what a real corporate environment is like, but there is a very real possibility a blue teamer has had zero exposure, and therefore zero understanding. Even in the immense differences CCDC environments have versus a real enterprise, it is still a goal worth chasing because that is what makes CCDC participants valuable. They’ve had that exposure to something other than a class room or text book in a situation that will push them to think critically under pressure.
To blue teams:
Don’t worry about the results. The most valuable part of CCDC is not the trophy – its the experience. You spent months preparing for this – learning every moment along the way. As someone who’s been in your shoes, let me tell you – thats the true prize. The knowledge you’ll walk away with is priceless. Yes, the competition side is fun especially when you develop a rivalry with another team, but once you graduate and are out, you’ll be working side by side with the same people you competed against and who won or lost will seem trivial. Focus on getting better, and be proud of yourself and your team when you do.
Thank you for your support. Without you, all CCDC events would not be possible. My only feed back to you is this: When you send volunteers to the competition, who you send will reflect on you far more than the amount on the check. And that image will been seen by more than just competitors – other sponsors, red teamers, and other volunteers will pick up on it.
One of the best examples of this I’ve seen was FireEye‘s choice for their red team seat at Nationals. They sent Dan Borges, a young, but talented engineer, to fill that seat. They picked someone who possessed passion just as I talked about above – and that passion drove Dan to produce tangible results in his position. That dedication can only come from someone who deeply understands what CCDC is about – something Dan can bring to the table given his previous security competition experience.
I encourage all sponsors to take seriously who they send – recruiters, management, and even technical folks. You want to connect with the participants. Having someone like Dan who can connect and relate to the competitors is the single best contribution you can make to the competition.
To those not involved:
Seriously ask yourself why.
If you’re faculty or an administrator at a college which doesn’t participate – what are you waiting for? The fact that schools such as Stanford and MIT who have long been attributed to the best and the brightest don’t participate is disappointing. Get on board. You will very quickly learn whether your curriculum is adequately preparing graduates for jobs in the information security space (likely not).
If you’re an organization, what is stopping you? I’m looking at all the companies out here in the Silicon Valley. I’m shocked that you don’t throw more support behind this. Your fast moving companies are on the forefront of technological innovations, yet you don’t tap into one of the deepest veins for young, fresh security talent. It’s not just about filling positions. This is the next generation of professionals in the security industry. Connect with them in a rich, meaningful way.
Lastly, to myself:
Keep giving into that passion. Every year I come through with more skills than previously, and it’s only making me better. I have no certifications worth mentioning nor do I frequent regularly frequent conferences. CCDC is my venue to give back to those who have made me better. I have to give a huge thanks to my employer Lares Consulting for all their contributions to me and CCDC as well. Chris and others have been strong supporters of CCDC events both regionally and nationally. Without question, they supported my desire to contribute as much as I could because they have recognized the theme of this post: passion. These are the most passionate group of people I’ve ever worked with and I couldn’t be happier.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with them today if it wasn’t for a CCDC event four years ago.
And that concludes the 2014 CCDC season. Congratulations to University of Central Florida on your win, and huge kudos to everyone else involved. Time for me to go back to the drawing board and begin cooking up new ideas for next year.