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Press Release | Argonne National Laboratory

United States Department of Energy to host multi-laboratory CyberForce Competition™

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will host its fourth collegiate CyberForce Competition™ on December 1.

The event aims to address the cybersecurity capability gap and increase awareness around energy critical infrastructure.

The competition is co-funded by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, Office of Electricity, Office of Science, Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the National Nuclear Security Administration. It will bring together hundreds of college students from across the country to compete at seven of the Department’s national laboratories.

In the competition, student teams will engage in interactive, energy-focused scenario activities centered on cybersecurity methods, practices, strategy, policy, and ethics all while defending their network against a team of hackers,” played by security professionals and government representatives. The competition challenges students to respond to a scenario based on a real-world challenge of vital importance: protecting the nation’s energy-related critical infrastructure from cyber threat.

The DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory — the first national laboratory to ever host the competition — will welcome 18 of the 70 college teams attending. Other participating laboratories include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

A member of the Red Team of faux cyber attackers plots his next move during the prior CyberForce Competition™. (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Since Argonne first hosted the event in 2016, enthusiasm among academia, industry and government alike has rapidly grown. Since then, the competition has continually expanded, attracting more and more students and sponsors year after year.

It’s rewarding to see students embrace this challenge so readily and take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the operations technology field and strengthen their cybersecurity skills,” said Argonne cybersecurity expert Nate Evans.

Corporate sponsors include the Federal Training Partnership, which produces training, technology and military-related events for government and industry, and Microsoft Government Azure, which deliver security and compliance services to U.S. government agencies and their partners.

In this year’s scenario, students will compete to defend a simulated oil transportation network, power delivery system and high performance computing system; previous scenarios have focused on water and power delivery systems. The competition incorporates components to add to the realism of this scenario, including a barrage of lifelike anomalies and real-world constraints, as well as volunteer users who grade teams on the usability and reliability of their delivery services.

Throughout, teams have the strain of balancing security with usability; they will be judged on how well they maintain both through a points-based system. The team with the most points at the end of the competition will be the winner. A winner will be announced at each laboratory site, and a national winner will be announced following the event.

The CyberForce Competition™ is one of many ways DOE promotes the development of a workforce of cyber professionals with competencies relevant to the energy sector, and raises awareness of cutting-edge cybersecurity and critical infrastructure innovation happening in the Department and across the national laboratories. Events like this aim to encourage students to consider careers in this high-demand field and help drive growth of the workforce. The competition also aims to help students develop the teamwork and technical skills needed to succeed in future cyber roles.

Building a strong workforce starts with nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers,” said Meridith Bruozas, who manages Argonne’s Educational Programs. This competition helps build our next generation by giving them a chance to test and grow their skills in real-world scenarios and learn from some of our country’s top cyber experts.”

Past participants have acknowledged the many ways the competition has helped them develop their skills and careers. For some, the competition experience led them to pivot towards a career in cybersecurity, while for others it reinforced their decision to pursue a career in the field and helped them hone their talent.

[These competitions] really do make an impact on those who participate and give a small peek into what the cyber industry might look like in worst-case scenarios. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun,” said Daniel Stempniewicz, a past participant who, following the event, switched his major to focus on cybersecurity.

For more information about the competition, 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 the Office of Science website.