Navy conducts “Hack-Our-Ship” cybersecurity event

The Navy encouraged hackers, computer scientists, small tech company representative and other experts to hack into a software program used to control Navy fleets.

The Navy took a major step toward recruiting cyber technology talent from beyond its service members by hosting a Hack-Our-Ship event last month that challenged hacking experts from across the country to infiltrate a simulated Navy fleet software system.

Hack-Our-Ship, also called “Hack-the-Machine,” took place from February 17th to February 19th and was the result of the joint efforts of Booz Allen Hamilton, U.S. Navy’s Naval Post Graduate School (NPS), Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.

The challenge: to hack into Booz Allen’s “Boat in a Box,” a complex software system designed to simulate the systems that are used to control Navy fleets. The “Boat in a Box” software contains various communication interfaces used at sea, including the automatic recognition systems that are used to prevent collisions and weather satellite radio systems.

Participants gathered at Capital Factory, a collaborative workspace in Austin, Texas. The Navy has chosen to use tech hubs as hosts instead of military bases as part of the effort to attract a new, wider talent base. According to the Department of Defense, these hackathons are intended to encourage the emerging group of highly skilled technology and coding experts to serve their country in ways that do not require donning a uniform.

The Navy’s first venture into hackathon hosting was last year’s Hack-the-Sky, or #HacktheSky, an event that took place June 24th-26th and invited hackers, cyber experts, representatives from small tech companies, and data scientists to participate in the program. According to the Navy’s official statement, the premise of the event was to hack into the drone operating system that had set a record the year before by enabling a single operator to fly 50 drones simultaneously.

“One of the meta purposes of #HacktheSky, aside from drone specifics, is that we will have working prototypes of advanced capability developed in a single weekend to demonstrate for our leadership.” said Commander Zachary Staples, Direct of NPS’ Center for Cyber Warfare, in a Navy press release during the event last year.

Hack-the-Sky, which consisted of the hackathon itself, a “Future of Autonomy” workshop, and a global crowd-sourcing exercise, was hosted at a San Francisco start-up center run by Galvanize, a group dedicated to spreading technology and coding knowledge.

At the end of the weekend, the teams who came closest to hacking the simulated drone operation system walked away with monetary prizes, while the Navy walked away with the recognition that as a data-reliant service, it cannot advance electronic warfare and unmanned systems without the software and cyber expertise to secure them, according to the Navy’s official online commentary on the event.

In the wake of Hack-Our-Ship this past month, Booz Allen is scheduled to present its “Boat in a Box” technology at South by Southwest on March 11th.

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