The University of the Cumberlands School of Computer and Information Sciences fielded its inaugural student-faculty team to take on the National Security Agency's (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge 2021. 

Since 2018, the NSA Codebreaker Challenge has provided students with a hands-on opportunity to develop their reverse-engineering/low-level code analysis skills while working on a realistic problem set centered around the NSA's mission.

Under the leadership of Dr. Machica McClain and Dr. Ulrich Vouama, 13 Cumberlands participants teamed up between August and December, to solve complex cybersecurity challenges created by the NSA. Giving next year's students greater aims to reach, Cumberlands’ team ranked in the top 30th percentile among the 613 institutions collaborating toward national information security and privacy goals.

Dr. Ulrich Vouama, an assistant professor of cybersecurity at Cumberlands, said, “I strongly encourage our CIS students to put their cybersecurity skills to the test. The challenge is tough and provides the opportunity to sharpen their reverse-engineering skills.”

“The NSA Codebreaker Challenge provided our students with the opportunity to study and experience various real-world scenarios,” said Dr. McClain, who is the program director for the Master of Science in Information Security Systems and the Master of Science in Data Forensics at the university. “Understanding how reverse engineering and vulnerability exploitations work is vital when protecting the infrastructure of an organization from hackers.”

According to Seth Gilliam, the Cyber Club team lead, “The Challenge left me wanting to learn more, helped put things into perspective, and showed us how useful Linux can be.” As the lead, Seth helped students and faculty with the various different tasks.

McClain added, “The codebreaker challenge was definitely a challenge, to say the least. I was forced to do research and pull from my experience with Kali Linux and Wireshark. I felt like I was back in school again. This was our first time participating in this challenge, and Dr. Ulrich Vouama did a great job leading our team. He provided our students and faculty with instructions and helpful tips to get us started. We are looking forward to participating in the 2022 NSA Codebreaker Challenge; hopefully, we will increase our ranking.”

University of the Cumberlands offers a bachelor’s degree program in information technology sciences both in-seat and online as well an online associate degree program in information technology sciences. Several master’s programs in the computer science field are offered as well, entirely online. To learn more, visit