Spy Agency’s Cyber Contest Won by U.S. Air Force Academy
Undergraduates at the U.S. Air Force Academy won an annual cyber defense contest run by the National Security Agency to promote skills in protecting electronic network.
A team of Air Force cadets beat their Army, Navy and Coast Guard counterparts in four days of exercises staged by the NSA, which is responsible for code-breaking and electronic surveillance, the Fort Meade, Maryland-based agency said today.
For students at the academies, where the curriculum includes the study of ancient war strategies, the annual contest helps challenge the next generation of military leaders to defend computer networks from cyber attacks, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has called the “weapon of the future.”
“The folks who’re going to be the future commanders will have a cyber appreciation and awareness that is very important to us,” Tony Sager, chief operating officer at the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate told reporters yesterday.
Younger military officers who grew up with Facebook, Twitter and the Internet expect to be connected “with everyone on Earth all the time are much more comfortable with technology,” Sager said. They also understand vulnerabilities of networks better than “senior military folks who struggle to understand the problem,” said Sager who created the contest in 2000.
Cadets from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, were ranked best at defending their network from a series of cyber attacks in the 12th annual contest, Vanee Vines, an agency spokeswoman said today. It was the third win for the Air Force students. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, won the contest six times, including last year. The U.S. Naval Academy has won twice and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has won once.
Military leaders who grew up thinking about how to counter an adversary’s cannon or aircraft try to “map the cyber problem in a similar way,” Sager said. The difference is that “you’re doing home banking on the same network that’s used to control power systems and some military applications,” he said. “It’s very hard to isolate yourself.”
The cyber contest was run out of a Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) facility in an office park in Hanover, Maryland. In a room filled with make-shift tables, routers, cables and other computer network paraphernalia, about 40 so-called red cell members drawn from the military services and the NSA played the role of hackers and attacked a dedicated network connecting them with the military academies.
Students at the academies set up a virtual private network used only for the contest, said James Cody, the NSA’s manager for the cyber defense exercise.
A large, black skull-and-bones banner hung over the red- cell team’s tables, and a cheer went up each time the team penetrated the students’ network. After one successful attack the red cell posted a sign on the students’ computer that read “Your judgment is bad and you should feel bad.”
A live video feed from the academies showed students huddled over their computers, strategizing ways to keep their networks from being taken down by the NSA, which uses publicly known techniques to attack them.
The exercise was overseen by a team of referees that set the rules and adjudicated if attacks or defense measures exceeded boundaries. Another team of so-called grey-cell members deployed to the military academies to play the role of network users.
“Students have read the books and written term papers, and what they get from this exercise is a very realistic experience” of what it takes to defend a network from attacks, Cody said.
Source: By Gopal Ratnam - Apr 20, 2012 (bloomberg.com)
Photo: XXXX Air Force (Photo by shephardmedia.com)