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Naval Academy Mids Participate in NSA Cyber Defense Competition

Posted on: April 24, 2013 08:00 EDT by Jessica Clark

A team of Naval Academy midshipmen participated in NSA’s annual inter-service cyber defense exercise April 16-18 in Annapolis, Md.

Also competing from their home locations 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 defended their virtual computer networks against malicious attacks by a team of NSA “hackers.” 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 entire exercise was conducted on virtual private networks while NSA computer 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.

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

“It’s one of the best training environments I think we have at the Naval Academy,” said team captain Midshipman 1st Class Matt Yates. “I've learned more about how to organize a team to accomplish a goal through CDX than most other activities I've done here.”

Yates, of Pittsburgh, Pa., said that interest in the cyber club continues to increase. In his plebe year, there were only a dozen mids involved. This year, the club had 60 active members, with a core team of 15 midshipman competing in this year’s exercise.

There is no one common denominator. The mids come from a variety of majors and plan to serve in many different communities within the Navy and Marine Corps, said Yates, who will serve as a Marine officer after finishing graduate program in computer science at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.

“Computers are everywhere. These are skills we’ll need wherever we go,” he said.

Midshipman 1st Class Melissa Carwile, the team’s assistant captain, will serve as a surface warfare officer for four years before entering training to become a Navy information warfare officer.

Carwile, of Gambrills, Md., thinks the increased interest in cyber within the brigade has a lot to do with the addition of required cyber courses to the Naval Academy’s core curriculum.

The faculty have also added elements of cyber warfare into the existing computer science and information technology majors, and early introduction to cyber has been helpful to the team, said Cmdr. Michael Bilzor.

“So much of what they do in this exercise relies on the fundamentals,” he said.

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