Cyber Defense Competition (CDC) at Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Are you interested in designing foolproof networks, fending off cyber attacks, and developing systems that keep information secure? Join Argonne National Laboratory in our inaugural Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition where teams of students design and defend the CyberInnovations Critical Housing Company system from attack. CCHC is a mock information technology corporation in Metropolitan, Illinois. CCHC hosts and protects computer systems that operate key infrastructure within the region. Local power plants depend upon CCHC to ensure their cyber infrastructure remains resilient and withstands cyber attacks.

Hosted in Argonne’s Theory and Computing Sciences Conference Center (TCS), the teams will receive all the physical and technical infrastructure equipment they need to build their own CCHC that supports and secures their own key infrastructure. They need to create a secure network that provides CCHC’s clients the convenience required for business operations while protecting them from outside attacks.

As a sophomore in college, I was challenged by my professor, Dr. Doug Jacobson, to start a Cyber Defense Competition (CDC) among the students we had in the Information Assurance Student Group (IASG).  We wanted to use the ideas developed for the military Cyber Defense Exercises (CDX) and apply them at the public university level.

After getting students fired up and purchasing a variety of hardware in Spring 2005, we pulled off our first CDC at Iowa State University (ISU) of Science and Technology.  It was initially used to test the Internet Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment (ISEAGE), a cybersecurity research project at ISU with the goal of modeling complex networks and eventually the Internet.

It started with 6 teams over a 24-hour period (imagine lots of pop and food and students sleeping under tables and next to computers) then quickly exploded to a point where we hosted multiple competitions each year for four different groups: ISU students, Community Colleges, High School Students, and a National Competition.

All in all, I directed 13 different competitions and competed in a competition – leading a team to victory using an extremely unorthodox architecture involving IPv6 over Firewire and Mac minis.  It was a life-changing experience for me and taught me a lot about leading, teaching, and managing stress.

Looking back, it was quite amazing that we accomplished so much and handled so many challenges.  I remember dealing with angry teams when the core networks on ISEAGE would fail due to hostile traffic.  I remember working late nights to help teams get things working and setup.  I remember teaching students how to crimp network cables, troubleshoot smoking machines, and fix systems that were taken down by the red team.  I remember walking into Hilton Coliseum, where the Cyclones play basketball, to see it dedicated not to a sporting event but to hosting an IT/cyber competition with over 200 students.

I have always had this dream that this competition would grow into a NCAA-type tournament, where schools compete with schools from around the Nation.  I am proud to announce that Argonne National Laboratory will host its first competition this April.  This is a huge step towards my vision and something that I hope will grow.

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