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Waseem Albaba wins 2024 DoD Cyber Sentinel Competition

USF engineering 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.

Waseem Albaba

"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.

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