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Press Release | Argonne National Laboratory

Northeastern University reigns in new CyberForce Conquer the Hill competition

Argonne announces the winner of the last U.S. Department of Energy CyberForce contest before the main annual event in November.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) CyberForce® program held the second in its new competition series, Conquer the Hill, on September 18. Kyle Sferrazza of Northeastern University won the Reign Edition of Conquer the Hill, competing against 45 participants.

Led by DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, CyberForce inspires and helps develop the next generation of energy sector cybersecurity experts. The Conquer the Hill competitions are part of an expansion of the program this year to include more cyber competitions, webinars and career resources. 

Critical U.S. infrastructure is increasingly dependent on the internet, making security a high priority. But about 500,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled from April 2020 through March, according to CyberSeek, a project from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. To fill that skills gap, CyberForce challenges college teams to build and defend a simulated energy infrastructure from cyberattacks. Hosted on-site from 2016-2019, the competition went virtual in 2020.

In 2021, CyberForce expanded to include a series of minicompetitions, called Conquer the Hill competitions, which provide students with more opportunities to learn about cybersecurity topics and compete. During the Reign Edition on September 18, a virtual skirmish-based mission tested participants’ skills with a timed capture the flag competition. Sferrazza completed the multilayered escape room in the shortest amount of time and earned his reign and title Conqueror of the Hill. Cameron Whitehead of the University of Central Florida won the first Conquer the Hill event, the Adventurer Edition, on July 18.

By diversifying our competitions, we’ve been able to grow the CyberForce program and accommodate the many different learning methods of students who are interested in cybersecurity careers,” said Amanda Joyce, CyberForce program director and cybersecurity analysis group lead at Argonne. That pool of talent is growing in interest every year through CyberForce.”

CyberForce started with eight competing teams in 2016 and grew to more than 100 in 2019 before becoming a virtual event in 2020.

The next opportunity to compete will be the annual CyberForce Competition™ on November 12-13, 2021. Every CyberForce Competition centers on an interactive, scenario-based event, where participants test their cyber defense skills in real time. In this year’s scenario, student teams will need to harden, secure and defend the information systems of a hydropower company, along with one of its recently acquired subsidiaries.

In addition, CyberForce is holding a series of virtual challenges, monthly webinars, and a virtual career fair in November. Also this fall, the team will debut the new CyberForce workforce portal, known as the Cyber Aptitude, Skills, Training, and Learning Environment (CASTLE). It will offer current and aspiring cybersecurity students a chance to better understand their skills, check job boards, communicate with various industry partners and learn about upcoming events and training opportunities.

CyberForce now allows students to engage with cyber experts no matter where they live or where they are in their careers, from incoming freshmen to graduate students.

The new Conquer the Hill competitions reflect the critical importance that DOE puts on closing the gap of unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. energy sector,” said Puesh Kumar, acting principal deputy assistant secretary of CESER. The more programs and real-life experiences we can offer students, the more likely they are to pursue roles that help us protect our energy systems from growing cyber threats.”

To learn more about the CyberForce Program, visit https://​cyber​forcecom​pe​ti​tion​.com/.

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.