Friday, April 17, 2015

Navy Triumphs in Cyber Defense Competition

The U.S. Naval Academy won the 15th annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) hosted by the National Security Agency Apr. 13-16.

CDX is an cyber security exercise in which students from the service academies design and build computer networks and defend them against intrusions by the National Security Agency/Central Security Services (NSA/CSS) Red Team (Red Cell).

Photo by MC2 Tyler Caswell

The exercise was headquartered this year at the Parsons facility in Columbia, Md., with each academy's team competing on a virtual private network from their home locations. Competing against the Naval Academy this year were teams from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Air Force Institute of Technology and Royal Military College of Canada.

During the exercise, representatives from each of these schools designed, built and defended their virtual computer networks against malicious attacks by NSA "Red Cell." Teams chose how to use the resources at their disposal to best defend their networks and to keep certain critical services running, while the attackers attempted to infiltrate the networks and disrupt those services.

"The CDX is an important complement to the fundamentals the midshipmen learn in the classroom," said Cmdr. Mike Bilzor, professor in the Computer Science Department. "The skills they have to employ - intrusion detection, log analysis, reverse engineering, and digital forensics, to name a few - require them to learn a great deal more about computer and network security. These are skills that many of them will use in the fleet."

Photo by MC2 Tyler Caswell

A separate team of NSA specialists graded each team’s ability to effectively maintain network services while detecting, responding to, and recovering from security intrusions or compromises.

NSA designed the competition to give students experience with designing and implementing computer security solutions with limited resources, as well as to encourage some friendly competition among the services. Students learned how to work as a team to ensure that their plan effectively protected their networks from attacks and how to react when the defenses did not work as expected.

"The competitive aspect inspires the midshipmen to work that much harder," said Bilzor. "We're thankful to NSA for hosting another great event, and we salute the other academies on an outstanding competition."

Additionally, students gained hands-on experience using the same tools used by the Defense Department to defend networks against cyber attacks.

"The team has been able to train exceptionally hard this year, thanks to the Cyber Center providing a dedicated training space, and the midshipmen being allowed time to train together during selected afternoons," said Bilzor. "You fight like you train, and cyber defense is at least as training intensive as any sport."

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