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Press Release | Argonne National Laboratory

Emerging cyberpros tried to Conquer The Hill in Argonne’s latest CyberForce® Program challenge

One winner was recognized among novice and expert student competitors, but all had the opportunity to achieve their personal best

Argonne’s latest individual CyberForce® Program competition challenged college-aged students to resolve anomalies in a seven-hour-long cybersprint.

Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory, announced Cameron Whitehead of University of Central Florida as the winner of the 2023 CyberForce Conquer the Hill: Adventurer Edition competition.

Whitehead was one of 213 students from 95 accredited U.S. colleges and universities who competed virtually to complete over 57 anomalies — work-based cybersecurity tasks and challenges — during a seven-hour, energy sector-related adventure.

Ideally, we want to bring more awareness to those participating about what cybersecurity companies do, what jobs are available, and what skills are needed.” – Amanda Theel, leader of Argonne’s Workforce Development group and the CyberForce Program

The purpose of DOE’s Conquer the Hill competitions and its overall CyberForce® Program, which Argonne leads, is to increase hands-on education to college students, raise awareness in the critical infrastructure and cyber security nexus, and promote basic understanding of cybersecurity in real-world scenarios. According to a 2022 study, there is a shortage of 410,695 cybersecurity professionals in the U.S. With the increasing amount of information placed on the internet, improving security and developing a cybersecurity workforce is a high priority.

Competitors were presented with a checkerboard of easy, medium and hard cyber challenges that they could tackle up to three times in any order they wished. Their performance on each task resulted in a score visible only to them and to the competition organizers. The winner received the highest points by completing the most tasks successfully in the least amount of time.

These smaller individual competitions are fun because they give students a lot more in-depth time to evaluate different areas of cybersecurity that they might not see in school,” said Amanda Theel, who leads the Workforce Development group in Argonne’s Strategic Security Sciences division and the CyberForce Program for DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER). Students can build cybersecurity skills and interests in areas they weren’t aware they liked or had an interest in, such as logs, forensics or encryption.”

All of the anomalies in this year’s Conquer the Hill: Adventurer competition are mapped to the National Institute of Standard and Technology National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education framework. By designing the challenges within this framework, DOE and Argonne believe students can better understand where they are proficient in their cybersecurity skills and where they may need to improve.

The Department of Energy’s CyberForce Program is dedicated to developing the highly skilled workforce we need to protect and defend our nation’s critical energy infrastructure,” said CESER’s deputy director for Preparedness, Policy and Risk Analysis, Mara Winn. We are proud to invest in these unique, hands-on opportunities to educate and challenge the next generation of energy cybersecurity professionals.”

Upcoming CyberForce Program events include a virtual webinar on May 10; another virtual mini Conquer the Hill” competition on July 15, which will be themed like an escape room, and a virtual career fair on October 11. The competitive cybersecurity season will close with DOE’s large, hallmark CyberForce® Competition, in which college and university students will compete in teams at an in-person event in the Chicagoland area, Nov 3-4.

Ideally, we want to bring more awareness to those participating about what cybersecurity companies do, what jobs are available, and what skills are needed,” said Theel. We’re hoping to fill that pipeline of professional openings.”

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.