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UNG's Winning "NSA Codebreaker Challenge" Teams ID'd Innate Cyber Talent With Haystack Solutions' Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment (CATA) - Free Trial Now Available
[August 10, 2021]

UNG's Winning "NSA Codebreaker Challenge" Teams ID'd Innate Cyber Talent With Haystack Solutions' Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment (CATA) - Free Trial Now Available

Haystack Solutions, co-creators of cybersecurity aptitude assessments that predict candidate success with uncanny precision, today heralded the upcoming 2021 National Security Agency (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge with new details on results from the 2019 and 2020 Codebreaker Challenges. For both years, teams from the University of North Georgia (UNG) stunned and decisively bested competing teams from leading technology universities.

Haystack Solutions helped UNG literally find, assemble and prepare two consecutive winning teams for the 2019 and 2020 Challenges. These "students in the haystack" included many participants with no previously identified cybersecurity knowledge, skills or abilities, and no prior exposure to IT terms or practices.

UNG employed Haystack's recently introduced Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment (CATA), the first commercially available solution that provides organizations and individuals with the ability to identify those with innate cybersecurity talents in order to optimally match training and career trajectories with the roles for which an individual is best suited. Until now, such assessments (including Haystack's core product) were made available only within military and federal intelligence-focused organizations.

UNG CyberHawks Swept NSA Codebreaker Challenge With "Mindboggling" Wins

In the 2020 Challenge, UNG's team won with 323,150 points. Georgia Tech, with 74,010 points, finished second. In the most recent Challenge, 89 UNG participants completed the first six tasks of the challenge, a feat that no other school with teams of more than seven players matched. Fully 27 UNG participants also completed the seventh and final task. In contrast, just four competitors from the next-closest school (in terms of numbers of tasks completed) completed seven tasks.

Results: In addition to winning both the 2019 and 2020 NSA Codebreaker Challenges by such substantial margins, UNG's winning teams:

  • increased the percentage of women members by 15x
  • increased overall team size by 8x
  • attracted highly successful female team members who had never studied cyber or software development - including philosophy, education, criminal justice and humanities majors

"UNG's results were mindboggling," said Doug Britton, Haystack Solutions CEO and Founder, and co-developer of CATA. "UNG's diverse teams included majors in philosophy, law enforcement and the humanities. These teams handily won NSA's 2019 and 2020 Codebreaker Challenges - against cybersecurity and IT majors from severalof the country's most elite technology-focused universities. In fact, the winning margins were so high that if teams 2-10 formed a single team, they'd still have lost."

Finding Cyber Genius (News - Alert) "Needles in the Haystack"

The CATA tests are a series of challenges that are universally understandable, and that minimize language requirements and other potential factors that can skew results or otherwise enable bias to enter the assessments. CATA allows candidate assessments regardless of native language, English-speaking proficiency, or prior experience with IT and cybersecurity principles.

All UNG Codebreaker Challenge winners remained engaged in the program after the wins. Many report that they are now considering or entering cyber careers, and all reported finding the CATA assessment encouraging and unintimidating.

"UNG results illustrate that it's not only possible to remove biases and drive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on cybersecurity teams, it's likely to prove highly advantageous to do so," Britton said.

CATA focuses on five key cerebral dimensions: critical thinking, deliberate action, real-time action, proactive thinking, and reactive thinking. It includes a series of tests designed to measure cognitive abilities and map natural aptitude within four domains of cybersecurity careers in the commercial sector:

  • Offensive operations: initiative and creative problem-solving skills using partial data in real time,
  • Defensive operations: detecting anomalies with scans and real time, partial data, screening out distractions,
  • Analytics and forensics: interpret and reconcile exhaustive amounts of often conflicting data, and
  • Design/development: abilities to programatize creative problem solving and build model programs for execution.

Michael Bunting, Ph.D., the Director of Cognitive Security and Information Operations at University of Maryland's ARLIS center, Haystack's CTO, and technology co-inventor, said: "CATA's core has been used by the U.S. Intelligence Community and Department of Defense (DoD) to create some of the highest performing cyber teams. It has been heartening to see it adapted for the commercial sector and, in early trials, to help identify previously unexplored but inherently genius-level cyber talent in schools and universities, who are now garnering some of the most prestigious CTF awards, and who had not previously considered cybersecurity careers."

As one of fourteen Department of Defense University-Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs) and the only UARC with a core mission to support the government's security and intelligence communities, University of Maryland's ARLIS center aims to integrate social and behavioral sciences, AI and computing for new Human Domain applied research and development capabilities.

Registrations for NSA Codebreaker Challenge, Free CATA Trial, Cyber Aptitude Webinar

The 2021 NSA Codebreaker Challenge is now underway. To register, visit:

Want to test your inherent cyber genius potential? To take a free trial of a subset of CATA challenges, visit:

To see and hear the recent webinar "Develop Cyber Genius with the Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment" featuring Doug Britton, Dr. Bunting, and human resources expert Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, visit:

About Haystack Solutions

Haystack Solutions, a cybersecurity talent development company, is on a mission to address the global cyber talent shortage by finding future cyber warriors based on their cognitive ability to meet the needs of the cyber fight. Backed by significant research, pilot implementations in the U.S. DoD, Universities, Veterans Assistance Programs and Corporations, Haystack's approach is the only solution in the market that is truly an aptitude assessment, predicting the capability of an individual to succeed in cybersecurity without requiring prior knowledge. For more information, go to or follow Haystack on Twitter (News - Alert) @CATA_Haystacks.

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