November 21, 2019
Web Feature

Future Cyberwarriors Converge at PNNL to Protect Critical Energy Infrastructure

Teams from Oregon State University, Western Washington University and Columbia Basin College place in nation’s top 20 in CyberForce Competition

Students competing at Cyberforce

Fueled by caffeine and snacks, members of Eastern Washington University’s team work together to thwart a sophisticated cyberattack on critical energy infrastructure during the 2019 CyberForce Competition at PNNL.

Photo By Andrea Starr

Seventeen teams from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest converged on the PNNL campus Nov. 16 to put their cyber skills to the test. The event was the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) fifth CyberForce Competition™. The event, held simultaneously at 10 DOE national laboratories across the country, challenged 105 college teams and more than 500 students to defend a simulated energy infrastructure from sophisticated cyberattacks.

Team members from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, took top regional honors – the third regional competition in a row at which the Oregon State University team prevailed. The Pacific Northwest placed three teams in the top 20 nationally: Oregon State University, Columbia Basin College, and Western Washington University. The Columbia Basin College team from Pasco, Wash., also received an award for their strong showing presented on behalf of the 256th Air National Guard Intelligence Squadron and the Washington Air National Guard. Nationally, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, team took top honors.

“CyberForce brings teams together to protect against tomorrow’s threats, a uniquely American approach to problem solving. Congratulations to this year’s winners and a big thanks to all the bright students who participated.” - Energy Secretary Rick Perry

Broad Regional Representation

Regional colleges and universities that sent teams to compete in the CyberForce Competition at PNNL’s Discovery Hall included Central Washington University; Columbia Basin College; Eastern Washington University; Green River College; Highline College; Northeastern University, Seattle; Oregon State University; University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho; University of Utah; University of Washington, Bothell; University of Washington, Seattle; University of Washington, Tacoma; Washington State University, Pullman; Washington State University, Tri-Cities; Western Washington University; Whatcom Community College; and Whitworth University.

“As we modernize our grid, new challenges arise. Achieving a balance of system security and system usability is at the heart of your challenge tomorrow, and our challenge as a nation,” PNNL Laboratory Director Steve Ashby told participating students in his welcoming remarks at CyberForce 2019. “Our ability to successfully tackle this challenge requires that we cultivate a highly skilled cybersecurity workforce. We hope competitions such as this help inspire the students here today, and those across the country, to serve as our next generation of cyber practitioners.”

Realistic Scenarios and Adversaries

The CyberForce Competition is designed to inspire and develop the next generation of energy sector cybersecurity professionals by giving them a chance to hone their skills during realistic interactive scenarios.

During the competition, teams competed to defend their simulated infrastructure from cyberattacks by adversarial “red teams,” played by industry professionals, while maintaining service for their “green team” customers, played by volunteers.

This year’s competition challenged teams to defend one of four scenarios—an energy company’s solar generation facility, electric substation, high performance computing center, or manufacturing plant—while communicating with the other three infrastructures to monitor and maintain the integrity of the system as a whole. Each team was scored on its ability to safeguard against attacks while maintaining system usability.

DOE-Sponsored Competition

The competition is co-funded by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER); Office of Electricity; Office of Science; Office of the Chief Information Officer; Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“Every year, the CyberForce Competition attracts more and more talented students,” said Karen S. Evans, assistant secretary for DOE CESER, “and with the expansion to address professional recruitment, the competition will only continue to grow. We envision this competition to be a tool to assist our sector to close skills gaps and shortage of cybersecurity experts.”

Corporate sponsors included the Federal Training Partnership, which produces training, technology, and military-related events for government and industry, and service providers such as Microsoft Government Azure, Cavalry, Apex Systems, KeyLogic, West Monroe Partners, and Digital Silence.

For more information about the competition, visit https://cyberforcecompetition.com/.

Published: November 21, 2019