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Cyber Policy Simulation at AvengerCon V

  POSTED ON: Tuesday, February 23, 2021 8:31 AM by Midshipman 3rd class Elisse Gibbens

AVENGERCON V was buzzing with keynote speakers, events and villages alike this past November. One such village being the Cyber Policy Simulation, organized and led by  Midshipman 3rd Class (sophomore) Elisse Gibbens, supported by the Naval Academy Women in Cybersecurity and Computing (WiCC) club.                                                

The cyber policy simulation involved multiple teams of students role-playing as members of  assigned government agencies in response to a nationwide cyber attack. Overall, there were over 40 students participating, the majority of whom were midshipmen from the United States Naval Academy.

In addition to USNA, the University of Pennsylvania, New York University, University of Michigan, and Georgetown University participated. The "teams"or agencies they role-played were the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Treasury, Department of Justice, and Department of Commerce.

The table-top simulation was made possible by the USNA faculty, staff, and other officers who volunteered their time to mentor teams and better facilitate real-world actions.

“The point of this exercise was to teach college students how the government works together to fend off a cyber attack, what a cyber attack can look like off screen, and how foreign relations can often play an important role in cybersecurity,” said Gibbens.

The plot, centered around the COVID pandemic, involved a fictitious field level attack on ventilators that had been bought in bulk from a foreign country. These machines malfunctioned, causing chaos and panic across the U.S. The teams were instructed to perform a myriad of tasks to mitigate the situation. This included investigating the source of this attack by using information that was either solely given to a few teams, to simulate how true intel would flow during a cyber attack, or announced to all of them at once. The team leaders were also in charge of proposing how each team would use their real world responsibilities to ease the chaos and trace back the source of this attack.

The participants formally met twice during this three-hour-long event in a “national security council meeting” where each team proposed a “who-done-it” and explained how they would help the situation. In addition to this task, each group had a responsibility to handle public relations. They were fed articles as time went on about how the U.S. was reacting, along with information that news outlets were gathering and tweets from fictitious world leaders commenting on the situation. A staff member was in charge of writing real-time reports based on the information each team gave at the council meetings.

“I really liked that the press releases were related to our responses. I also liked the simulation being relevant to what we are actually experiencing,” commented a participant during the feedback portion of the event.

The participants not only had to handle the situation with care, but needed to understand there would be consequences to their actions. Several foreign countries and actors were fictitiously involved, and based on the responses given, would react differently in a “choose your own adventure” style. For example, if the participants had chosen to be hostile towards Canada when it was revealed the ventilators originated from there, then the manufacturers at the imagined site would not have provided valuable information. However, they chose to be diplomatic, which appeased the suppliers and led the simulation further down the plot.

The staff of the simulation were praised for their "hard work, leadership, and creativity" by several of the faculty present from different schools.

One student remarked that “having the mentor there to help give a perspective on what our team should be doing definitely helped since almost none of us had any experience.”

Staff members included: Midshipman 1st Class Sierra Swanda; Midshipman 1st Class Alexander Douglas; Midshipman 1st Class Christain Moreno; Midshipman 2nd Class Brigitta Szepesi; Midshipman 2nd Class; Midshipman 2nd Class Chase Lee; Midshipman 3rd Class Elisse Gibbens; and Austen Brennan, a graduate student of American University. Midshipman 1st Class Kate Asaro also provided staff support.

This simulation took approximately six months to plan and complete, with a massive amount of creativity and work put in by each staff member

Category: Research, Academics, General Interest