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Dreaming Big: US National Team for Cybersecurity Competition

Micah VanFossen January 23, 2024
Cybersecurity competitions and US Cyber Team


This single word means so much to so many people. Competitive events have been used to develop talent, brands, and almost always some level of personal character. The world has watched and encouraged competitive games since the very beginning of organized society.

From early Roman colosseums to the billion-dollar stadiums of today, people have enjoyed competing and watching others compete. Nearly all of us in America have watched the Olympics on TV. Perhaps the biggest “games” of all, the Olympics bring nations against each other to determine who has the top athletes in the world. As children, we all dreamed of one day competing for our country in events to be crowned “the best in the world.” There seemed to be no greater honor than to stand on a platform, representing your country, and receiving a medal.

This dream quickly faded away for most of us (unless we were blessed with incredible genes, work ethic, and opportunities). As the competition grew, at some point you learned that you were not the best on your team or in your city, much less the world. But, if you were like me, even that realization did not stop you from giving your all to your sport and team. Now take a second to remember those dreams, goals, and memories you have from your athletic career. Imagine what would have happened if there was no competition. Maybe you would have had no desire to improve, you might not have challenged yourself or missed out on meeting friends along the way. Many of us had these chances through traditional sports, but what about the people who have other talents? Must they miss out on the opportunity to compete simply because they prefer a different skill? While there are competitions for many of these other talents (think Scripps, AMC, BOA, UCA, and many others) these all require some sort of an organized program or body that helps identify and judge talent and determine competition champions. This is what The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) has become at the international level for cybersecurity competition.

Did you ever wish there was a US national team for competition in your specialty? Is your specialty cybersecurity? Well if so, you’re in luck!

> What is the US Cyber Games?

The US Cyber Games is a program created to “bring talented cybersecurity athletes, coaches, and industry leaders together to build an elite US Cyber Team for global cybersecurity competition.” The program is open to athletes aged 18-24 residing in the United States. Once identified, a team is formed, trained, and prepared to compete internationally at the International Cybersecurity Championship (ICC). The US Cyber Games was founded by Katzcy®, in cooperation with the NICE program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The US Cyber Games is a strategic program to assist in the development of the next generation of diverse and well-qualified cybersecurity talent. The inaugural season for the US Cyber Games was in 2021, with the creation of the first-ever US Cyber Team.

In short, the US Cyber Games are the main opportunity to represent your country while competing in cybersecurity competitions. Think of Cyber Patriot or the National Cyber League (NCL) but with over 8 months of practice, talented coaches, and the support of your country.

> What is the ICC?

The International Cybersecurity Challenge (ICC) encourages students and young professionals to pursue a career in cybersecurity by providing them with an opportunity to compete and collaborate with others in the cybersecurity industry across the globe.

The cybersecurity championship tournament is composed primarily of capture-the-flag and attack-and-defend games. It is an annual challenge that moves from country to country each year and is organized by the ENISA International Cybersecurity Challenge Program (ICC). Teams representing global regions travel to this multi-day event to compete in challenges related to web application and system exploitation, cryptography, reverse engineering, hardware challenges, and attack/defense. The ICC competition (formerly called the European Cyber Security Challenge) has been hosted by ENISA since 2016. More information on the ICC can be found at the official website www.enisa.europa.eu/topics/education/international-cybersecurity-challenge-icc

> How to Make the US Team

Just like any other competitive program, progression-based try-outs are used to determine the US Cyber Team athletes. A mix of CTFs, assessments, and interviews are ultimately used to select the team.

The first step is to join the US Cyber Open event. Each year, the US Cyber Games program begins with cyber athletes competing in the US Cyber Open™—a FREE, Capture the Flag (CTF) competition—where all ages and all skill levels are welcome.

Based on their CTF scores and application, a select number of cyber athletes (128 in 2023), ages 16 to 25, are then invited to participate in the US Cyber Combine™ where a number of virtual learning opportunities, hands-on exercises, and competitions are held over 2 months.

The selection and drafting of the next season’s US Cyber Team® members (30 competitive athletes, 6 OPS team members in 2023) takes place in October during a LIVE Draft Day event. The team and coaches then begin preparing for the ICC via scrimmages, training camps, and more.

Ultimately, select members (currently 15 for Season III) of the US Cyber Team will represent the United States at the International Cybersecurity Championship (ICC). The US Cyber Team season typically lasts from January to October, with a previous 4 to 5 months (May to August) of participation/activities to make the team.

> The Requirements

Athletes should meet these marks to be seriously considered for the team:

  • Cyber athletes invited to the US Cyber Combine and potentially drafted onto the US Cyber Team must be no older than 25 years of age come August of the following year, and a U.S. Citizen with the ability to obtain a U.S. passport.
  • Should enjoy competing in real-world scenarios to test your aptitude and abilities.
  • Have the willingness to learn and invest the time for world-class coaching.
  • Like teaming with others with solid communication skills.
  • Want to learn from world-class cyber-skilled coaches.
  • Complete the online application to request an invitation.
  • Applicants DO NOT need to be students or part of any collegiate cybersecurity program to play.

> The US Cyber Team Season

If you want to get a sample of the action, the Open CTF is available to anyone who has an interest in online cyber competitions has access to a laptop or PC with a modern web browser and internet connection, and wants to test their limits and learn more about cybergaming. The Open CTF is an easy, no-commitment way to see where you stack up in the rankings and learn more about the program and cyber competitions in general.

> Why Join?

Some of the perks of being on the US Cyber Team include:

  • Training opportunities via coaching, mentors, and access to learning platforms such as Hack The Box Academy and potential certification vouchers.
  • Ability to meet and network with top peers and professionals in the country. This is probably the top benefit for your future, in my opinion.
  • Potential employment opportunities and the ability to get in front of organizations.
  • Learn skills in areas such as reconnaissance, cryptanalysis, operations security, forensics analysis, web security, attack and defend skills, and malware analysis.
  • Earn digital badges as a tangible certification for social profiles, applications, and resumes.
  • Win prizes and receive swag boxes.
  • Athletes chosen for the US Cyber Team will have chances to compete on behalf of the United States at the international level.
  • A cool story to tell.

Ultimately an athlete will get out what they put into this experience. Someone has said something along the lines of “There is nothing worth doing that is not worth doing well.” Of course, you can get by on many things with talent, but passion, work ethic, and a team-first mentality are what will set great athletes apart from the rest.

For people who are seriously considering taking a chance at the US Cyber Games, absolutely do it! Should you make the team, you can expect to spend up to 10 hours + a week practicing and spending time learning and building. So you’ll definitely want to make sure you enjoy cybersecurity competitions, but you probably wouldn’t have gotten this far already if you did not.

Be on the lookout for a future blog detailing the tryout journeys of some of the current Season III athletes who made the team.


AUTHOR: Micah VanFossen

Micah is a SIEM / Data Engineer. He works to defend against threats by identifying, obtaining, and utilizing relevant data to create detections and inform strategic decisions. He holds a Master's degree in Cybersecurity and a list of top industry certifications, but the differentiator in his career has been his passion to learn, create solutions, and educate others. He is a firm believer in resourceful education and the power of curiosity.