A woman holding a trophy

Cyber Champions: Georgia Tech Students Win First at Codebreaker Challenge

The Coda building’s ninth floor atrium was full in late April as senior administrators from the National Security Agency (NSA) recognized Georgia Tech students for placing first at the 2021 NSA Codebreaker Challenge (CBC) where they scored over 230,000 points. 

For the past eight years, Georgia Tech students have placed among the top three finishers at the competition.

“I want to congratulate Georgia Tech for this incredible win that showed the talent you have at this school,” said Pamela Jock, NSA chief of Academic Engagement. “Being second the last three years and winning this year shows us that you are dedicated, you have a lot of perseverance, and that you care about the future of our country.” 

Jock also touched on the rigorousness of the competition. Every year, less than 1% of competitors solve the challenge, and in 2021 there were only 46 solvers among the 5,464 participants. Georgia Tech had eight of these solvers, more than any of the other 631 academic institutions in the contest.

Man in grey suit shakes hands with a man in a blue suit while holding a trophy
Charles Isbell, dean and John P. Imlay Chair of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, shakes hands with Col. Richard Malaga, commander of NSA-Georgia.


According to a release from the NSA, the 2021 competition involved a simulated cyber-attack on an NSA facility. Students worked independently to solve increasingly difficult scenarios over the course of five months. The challenge is specifically set up to highlight the type of work the NSA faces daily across the United States.

“Investing in our nation’s next generation of cybersecurity professionals has never been more important,” said Col. Richard Malaga, commander of NSA-Georgia.

Malaga presented Charles Isbell, dean and John P. Imlay Chair of the College of Computing at Georgia Tech, with a trophy to commemorate the achievement of the Institute’s 377 student competitors.

“I am pleased, but not surprised that our students did so well in the Codebreaker Challenge,” said Isbell. “We have worked hard to make Georgia Tech one of the best cybersecurity programs in the country, and a large part of that is that we have top-notch students who constantly push themselves (and us) to do even better.”

Two faculty at the Georgia Tech School of Cybersecurity and Privacy (SCP) assisted in helping organize students for the challenge. Professor Taesoo Kim incorporates the challenge every year into the curriculum of the Information Security Lab to teach students about the importance of the NSA’s work. Postdoctoral scholar Wen Xu was recognized as the leader of the Georgia Tech team and received a letter from the NSA on behalf of Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera during the April ceremony.

“We’re thrilled to see the Georgia Tech team at the top of the NSA Codebreaker Challenge once again,” said SCP Chair Richard DeMillo. “We try to immerse our students in real-world challenges facing cybersecurity professionals and our continued success tells me we are meeting that goal.”

Online and on-campus students from Georgia Tech earned a total of 234,982 points to win the challenge. Students from the University of North Georgia finished second with a total of 152,239 points. The NSA Codebreaker Challenge is open to all students with a valid institute email address. For more information on the competition, please visit the CBC website.