Argonne’s Cyber Defense Competition Provides a Unique Spin on the Traditional Competition Space

Argonne National Laboratory’s Cyber Defense Competition

Argonne National Laboratory’s Cyber Operations, Analysis and Research (COAR) team partnered with Education is hosting their second Annual Cyber Defense Competition on Saturday, April 1, 2017 at Argonne National Laboratory. This competition seeks college students from varying levels of higher education and regions within the United States to defend a real-world simulation of an energy and water distribution system.

What is a Cyber Defense Competition?

A Cyber Defense Competition (CDC) is a competition that focuses on the defensive/hardening nature of cyber security. A typical CDC has a Blue Team (defenders) that protects a network infrastructure from the Red Team (attackers). A blue team consists of high school or college students who secure and harden their competition system. A red team consists of students or industry professionals that work to cause cyber destruction to the blue teams’ network infrastructures. The competition is scored utilizing a point system. Points can be both given and taken away depending on the actions or lack of action from both blue and red teams. The blue team with the most points at the end of the competition is declared the winner of the event.

Why is Argonne’s CDC different?

Argonne’s CDC has added some elements to their competition that no other competition has. Some of the unique differences in Argonne’s CDC include:

  • Argonne’s CDC has a Green Team. The green team simulates that of an actual user of the systems being defended by the blue teams and attacked by the red team. The objective of having a green team is to enforce a real-world instance of balancing usability with security. Scoring from the green team is subjective includes: accessibility, ease of system, and usability.
  • A Pink team will be introduced into Argonne’s CDC to work alongside the red team. The pink team is comprised of individuals that are interested in learning the theory and technical skills behind the red team. The pink team will have an educational component in which the volunteers will not only get to see what red team is doing but understand what blue teams are defending as well.
  • A large difference between Argonne’s CDC and other hosted CDCs is the addition of the physical realm to the competitions. Most competitions simulate a real network but the physical impacts cannot be seen. The goal of Argonne’s competition was to make it as real world scenario for the competing teams allowing them to have a cyber network but also allow for a physical impact to occur. To accomplish this goal, a miniature, but physical and functional infrastructure replica is provided to each blue team during the competition. If the infrastructure replica is involved in a cyber-attack, the teams will see the physical replicas reacting to the attacks in real time.

Argonne CDC

Argonne’s first annual CDC took an electrical grid/infrastructure approach. The competition scenario was centered on the ability of the blue teams securing their networked environment along with their “electrical grid”. The “electrical grid” was represented with an LED light that was wired up and placed inside a small wooden birdhouse that was given to each of the Blue teams. When the team’s light went out it was a good indication that the red team had successfully been able to breach that team’s network infrastructure.


Argonne’s second annual CDC will bring the competitors much closer to the cyber-physical realm. This year will consist of both the electrical and water infrastructures being combined into one competition environment. The blue teams will have to secure their networked systems and industrial control systems (ICSs) in order to “keep the lights on” and “keep the water running”. The water will have LED lights and be colored so participants and guests can easily tell if there is a stoppage.



Does your school want to compete in this year’s competition?

Interested in learning more about this year’s challenge or does your school wish to send a Blue Team? Visit our website at or register at Argonne CDC Registration.

Can’t compete, why not volunteer?

There are tons of volunteer opportunities for both technical and non-technical individuals.

Technical Volunteers:
Non-technical volunteers:

If you are interested in volunteering, please email [email protected].

This post was written by: Amanda Joyce & Steven Day