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UTD CS Student Team Places 4th in the 2022 NSA Codebreaker Challenge

This fall, the National Security Agency kicked off its 2022 NSA Codebreaker Challenge, which allows participants to sharpen their technical skills through mission-centric scenarios similar to the type of work the NSA does every day. Students are challenged to use their technical expertise, intuition, and common sense throughout the competition. Any student nationwide can join in on the competition at any time. The UT Dallas CS Team placed fourth overall. Last year, the UT Dallas Computer Science team placed eighth. The team is led by Dr. Kangkook Jee, assistant professor of computer science at UT Dallas; graduate student Josh Wiedemeier and David Wank, a computer science student and Computer Security Group (CSG) officer.

The NSA Codebreaker Challenge (CBC) is an annual cryptanalysis and reverse engineering event that offers students at U.S.-based schools an opportunity to experience a realistic NSA scenario typical of the work that NSA experts perform daily. This year’s CBC involved a fictional compromise to the defense industrial base – requiring strengthened skills in forensics, reverse engineering, protocol analysis, cryptanalysis, software development and vulnerability research and exploitation. This scenario requires students to draw from diverse physics, drone hacking, reverse engineering and signals analysis skills.

The challenge constitutes a great learning experience for students, starting with easy tasks and then advancing to harder ones. The 2022 NSA Codebreaker Challenge involves a fictional compromise of a US company which has been crippled by a ransomware attack. Students are asked to investigate the attack and discover the tools and techniques used, unravel and expose a ransomware-as-a-service ring, and finally recover the victim’s files and save the day. Throughout the challenge, students work to identify the scope of the compromise, analyze the malicious actor’s tradecraft and protocol and gain access to the malicious actor’s infrastructure to uncover additional details about the actor’s activities.

Initially launched in 2013 with five participating schools, this year’s Codebreaker Challenge hosted participants from approximately 400 academic institutions. The 2022 Codebreaker Challenge consists of a series of tasks that are worth a varying amount of points based on their difficulty. Schools are ranked according to their students’ total number of points. The NSA uses the Codebreaker Challenge as a recruitment tool. Students who pass task seven are automatically put on the high-achiever list for NSA Internship and job recruitment.


The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2022. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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Department of Computer Science