Cyber Defense

D-FENSE: Army nips Air Force in NSA’s cyber competition

AF Academy team at NSA CDX

Members of the Air Force Academy team prepare for an earlier competition.


The U.S. Military Academy took the top spot in the National Security Agency’s most recent service-academy cyber competition, which involved designing and building a network from scratch, then defending it against a NSA and service red teams while handling other challenges.

The Army edged the Air Force Academy to win its seventh Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) title since the competitions began in 2001. Also competing were the Naval, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies. The U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and the Royal Military College of Canada also took part, but didn’t compete for the title.

“The CDX is an advanced cyber skill building exercise, unique in its breadth, and of vital importance in developing hands-on cyber defense skills within the U.S. military,” said Neal Ziring, technical director of NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, which sponsors the event.

The competition, the longest-running of its kind, is aimed at developing the skills required for a growing cyber workforce. Cyber warriors at the U.S. Cyber Command and the component commands at the military services are on the front lines of the increasingly important domains of cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Each team designed, built and configured its network, then brought it to the competition, held April 8-11. The networks included email, Web, Voice over IP and file transfer services, according to the Air Force, whose team won the competition in 2012 and 2013. In addition to trying to fend off the NSA’s red team and Service Red Cells, teams had to solve a forensics challenge and secure a vulnerable Web server.

Teams were graded by a group of specialists on their ability to effectively maintain network services while detecting, responding to and recovering from security intrusions and compromises.

CDX “focused on a key concern of military commanders — keeping network services running in the face of enemy attack,” Ziring said, touting the lessons the can be learned from putting “classroom learning, experience, and creativity into practice against full-time professional attackers.”

In addition to being the oldest cyber competition of this type, CDX has served as a model for other competition in academia and the private sector, such as the annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which the Air Force Academy team will compete in April 25-27.

 

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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