MELBOURNE, FLA. — TJ O’Connor, the cybersecurity researcher and assistant professor who leads Florida Tech’s cybersecurity program, has been named head coach of the first-ever US Cyber Games team.
The inaugural US Cyber Games, led by Katzcy in cooperation with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) program at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is an esports-style education program collaboratively designed to harness the engagement value and learning benefits of gaming to best equip cybersecurity talent with vital skills and competencies.
The mission of the US Cyber Games is to bring together talented athletes, coaches and industry leaders to build an elite team for global cybersecurity competition. Organizers hope to inspire the best cybersecurity athletes, build a stronger and more diverse community, and sustain the United States’ world-class competitive edge.
“I am incredibly humbled to be a part of this outstanding effort to recognize the most talented cybersecurity experts in the United States and serve as a mentor on their journey,” O’Connor said. “As a team we are excited to represent the United States in international competition and win.”
US Cyber Games Commissioner Jessica Gulick shares that excitement.
“We’re beyond ecstatic about our exceptional partners and coaching team,” Gulick said. “Each brings amazing technical and leadership skills with a passion for coaching the athletes in competitive games, and the US Cyber Team couldn’t ask for a better group to lead them to victory.”
Rounding out the coaching team is Jasmine Jackson, a senior applications security engineer for a Fortune 500 company and adjunct professor at Drexel University, who will serve as the capture the flag coach, and Rob Fuller, the red versus blue coach who is a senior technical advisor for major corporations and with HBO’s “Silicon Valley” series.
The US Cyber Games coaching team also includes three senior technical mentors: Bryson Payne, Ph.D., a professor and coach of the University of North Georgia cyber team; Dane Brown, Ph.D., assistant professor and coach of the U.S. Naval Academy cyber team; and Suzanna Schmeelk, Ph.D., assistant professor and program director at St. John’s University.
This is not O’Connor’s first experience with teams and competition: He serves as coach for FITSec, Florida Tech’s award-winning cybersecurity competition team. Since its 2019 founding by then-student Josh Connolly, FITSec – which has grown to about 50 active members – has earned several top 10 placements, as well as first place at the 2020 U.S. Cyber Challenge regional qualifier and eighth place at the Fall 2020 National Cyber League Competition, where more than 5,000 students competed. The team won the U.S. Cyber Quest Eastern Regionals in 2020 and placed third in the Eastern Regionals this year.
For the US Cyber Games, O’Connor and his staff will help guide athletes’ training and progress through a series of increasingly difficult activities in which the athletes will learn both offensive and defensive tactical concepts which are reinforced in individual exercises.
The yearlong talent hunt was launched in May with the US Cyber Open. Nearly 700 cyber athletes registered to compete. A select group of athletes from this program have been invited back to participate in the upcoming US Cyber Combine, a sports-style combine program designed to run the athletes through drills, training, and aptitude evaluations to help improve their knowledge and skills in a variety of common cybersecurity game categories (i.e., cryptography, reconnaissance, mobile security, IoT security, network and web security, and reversing and exploitation).
The outcome of the US Cyber Combine will be the selection of the 20-member US Cyber Team at an Oct. 5 draft day. That team will then represent the United States at the inaugural International Cybersecurity Challenge in December, where at least nine nations will compete in Athens, Greece.
The US Cyber Games are led by PlayCyber (by Katzcy) in collaboration with the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. Current sponsors include founding sponsor TikTok, as well as Leidos, Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, CompTIA, Resolvn, Cyware, Procircular, Protegrity, Resecurity, Synack and BAE Systems and AWS. Partners include Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu, U.S. Cyber Range, National Security Agency, ITSP, The CyberWire, OODA Loop, Information Systems Security Association (ISSA) International, National Cyber Security Alliance, and CyberSeek.
Sponsorship opportunities are available for the team’s training, equipment, and travel and are vital to the success of the US Cyber Team.