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HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A Hanscom computer scientist received recognition for his first place win in the 2021 President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition during a July 15 ceremony at the White House.
Jakob Kreuze, a PALACE Acquire recruit in the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate’s Special Programs Division, beat out approximately 300 federal counterparts to win the individual offense track in the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency-hosted competition.
According to CISA.gov, the contest is designed to “identify, recognize, and reward the best cyber talent across the federal workforce.” Each year, participants tackle a different fictional scenario based on “real-world situations from across the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education framework to expand cyber skills through fun and creative tests.”
Kreuze said he was “very excited and full of adrenaline” in the moments immediately following his win, but he had no idea his achievements would be recognized at this level.
“It’s always been my goal since I started these competitions to eventually take home first in one of them, and I finally did it,” he said. “I got this acrylic eagle trophy, and I thought that was going to be the end of it. Then a couple of months later, I hear they’re having an award ceremony at the White House, and I realized it’s probably a bigger deal than I thought it was.”
Kreuze said he was checking the CISA site for a press release on the Log4j security issue when he first saw the 2021 competition announcement.
“It caught my eye because I’ve been doing these sorts of competitions since I was about 15,” he said. “I got into computer security when I was 11 or 12, and my dad bought me a book on web development. I became a voracious reader on computer security topics after that, and these sorts of competitions gave me a chance to leverage that knowledge.”
Kreuze said that while his day-to-day work at Hanscom is more “defense focused,” he decided to opt for the competition’s offense track since his competition experience is primarily in the offensive space.
“We had a week to complete the qualification and the semi-final rounds of the competition, but it was timed. You had four hours from the time you started, and once the timer was done, you couldn’t do any more work,” he said. “The final round was four hours, but it was at a fixed time, so all 10 finalists were completing the challenges at the same time.”
Pat Hart, Hanscom’s PALACE Acquire point of contact, said he was very impressed by Kreuze’s win, particularly since this was his first time entering the CISA competition.
“Most of the competitors are experts in their fields, and here you’ve got this young guy fresh out of school playing at the top of the big leagues,” he said.
Kreuze initially joined the Hanscom workforce through the Premier College Intern Program in summer 2020.
“Jakob was at the top of his class at UMass Amherst and hit all the right buttons as far as people who would make a good hire for the Air Force,” said Hart.
Between his Hanscom role as a systems engineer for cloud software engineering and his plans to pursue a master’s in computer science at Brown University this fall, Kreuze has a full schedule, but he says he’d still like to participate in the CISA challenge again.
“I might like to do the teams track next time,” he said. “Teams complete both offensive and defensive challenges, and CISA live streams the teams’ track competition at the finals. I’m hoping that having won this, it will be easier to find people at Hanscom who might want to compete with me.”
Registration for the next President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition opens Aug. 8. For more information, visit https://www.cisa.gov/presidentscup.