Argonne helps host DOE’s Cyber Defense Competition; local competitor Lewis University takes first place
Argonne, along with Pacific Northwest and Oak Ridge national laboratories, recently hosted the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) third annual Cyber Defense Competition. Local competitor Lewis University bested 24 other university teams that sought to defend their cyber networks from pseudo attacks launched by experts.
The competition is sponsored by DOE’s Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration (ISER) and pits teams of computer science and engineering students — each team consists of six students ranging from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates — against one another in building complex network infrastructures similar to those used by organizations, businesses and services.
Unfilled cybersecurity careers are predicted to reach more than 1.5 million by 2019. Through the cyber defense competitions, DOE has worked to increase hands-on cyber education to college students and professionals and to increase awareness of critical energy infrastructure.
Argonne Director Paul Kearns addressed all the teams before the competition began. “Helping students like today’s participants get ready to take on cybersecurity jobs is a natural fit for the Department of Energy,” he said. “For more than 70 years, DOE laboratories have been finding solutions to big challenges in the way we generate, distribute, consume and store energy.
“That experience, along with our breadth of expertise in cyber and information sciences, positions us well to protect the nation’s energy infrastructure,” Kearns said. He added that he thanks all staff from across Argonne who volunteered their time to make the competition a success.
All 25 teams were poised to best protect their networks from attacks from “red teams” of faux hackers, one of which, at Argonne, was led by Matt Kwiatkowski, Argonne’s cybersecurity operations manager.
“People can take internet security for granted without really knowing how the transfer of information works,” said Kwiatkowski. But young people have a unique perspective. “They are thinking more about how cyber defense really works, it’s something that interests them.”
“One of the big problems in cybersecurity right now is that it is very reactionary in nature,” said Nate Evans, group lead for Argonne’s Cyber Operations Analysis and Research team, which organized the competition. “The approach needs to be more proactive. We encourage the students to be innovative in their setups and design, we encourage them to come with a new approach. We want to see new creative ideas in order to leap forward with cybersecurity. “
When asked what the team members wanted to do after graduation, all of them wanted to go into some aspect of cybersecurity, whether pursuing an advanced degree in the field, or working in cyber research at one of the national labs. It’s evident that the industry is waiting for them.
“The private sector, including electricity, oil and natural gas companies has provided the competition tremendous support,” said Meridith Bruozas, Manager of Educational Programs and Outreach at Argonne. “This event has been designed so that it helps students from colleges and universities rise to the occasion in a way that prepares them for their future careers. It’s unique in that it is so dynamic and replicates so closely authentic, real-world experiences.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry kicked off the contest in a video message to the crowd. “You are this nation’s next generation of innovators, defenders and cyber warriors,” he said. “There is perhaps nothing more essential to America’s national and economic security than its energy supply. The Department of Energy plays a vital role in protecting that supply, and as Secretary, it is my number one priority.”