The St. John’s University team prepares to compete at ORNL during the December 2018 CyberForce event. Image courtesy of Jeffrey A. Nichols/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

DOE Holds Fifth Annual CyberForce Competition

Nov. 21, 2019
Competition to inspire the next generation of energy sector cybersecurity professionals by giving them a chance to hone their skills during realistic scenarios.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) hosted its fifth CyberForce Competition on Nov. 16. The event, held at 10 of the DOE’s National Laboratories across the United States, challenged 105 college teams to defend a simulated energy infrastructure from cyberattacks.

A global shortage of cybersecurity professionals could reach 3.5 million by 2021. The CyberForce Competition is designed to inspire the next generation of energy sector cybersecurity professionals by giving them a chance to hone their skills during realistic scenarios.

During the competition, teams defended simulated infrastructure from attacks by adversarial “red teams” composed of industry professionals, all while maintaining services for their “green team” customers, played by volunteers. The team from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was declared as the national winner following the competition.

“The nation’s energy infrastructure is becoming increasingly reliant on digital controls and communications,” said Amanda Joyce, cybersecurity analysis group lead at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. “The idea behind the competition is to build a strong workforce to defend this infrastructure from an ever-increasing amount of cyberattacks.”

Argonne — host of the first competition in 2016 and lead organizer for this year’s event — welcomed 24 of the 105 college teams attending. The competition has steadily expanded since the event in 2016. Nine other laboratories participated in this year's competition.

“The CyberForce Competition is designed to expose cybersecurity undergraduates to the unique challenges of an operational technology environment,” Karen S. Evans, assistant secretary for cybersecurity, energy security, and emergency response (CESER), said. “There are no better ambassadors to educational institutions than the DOE National Laboratories.”

“The CyberForce Competition is unique because it gives people a sense of what these events are really like, with physical devices like a water pump that stops functioning or lights that go out,” said Argonne cybersecurity expert Nate Evans.

The competition was co-funded by the DOE’s CESER; Office of Science; Office of the Chief Information Officer; Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Corporate sponsors included the Federal Training Partnership, which produces training, technology and military-related events for government and industry, and service providers such as Microsoft Government Azure, Cavalry, Apex Systems, KeyLogic, West Monroe Partners, and Digital Silence.

The event aimed to attract more promising talent to the cybersecurity field by offering memorable hands-on experiences and highlighting the crucial role this field plays in preserving national energy security.

For more information about the competition, visit here.

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