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ORNL to host 13 teams for DOE CyberForce Competition

  • The St. John’s University team prepares to compete at ORNL during the December 2018 CyberForce event. Credit: Jeffrey A. Nichols/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

  • Student teams made final preparations before the 2018 competition began. Credit: Jeffrey A. Nichols/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

  • The St. John’s University team prepares to compete at ORNL during the December 2018 CyberForce event. Credit: Jeffrey A. Nichols/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

  • Student teams made final preparations before the 2018 competition began. Credit: Jeffrey A. Nichols/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 14, 2019 – Oak Ridge National Laboratory will give college students the chance to practice cybersecurity skills in a real-world setting as a host of the Department of Energy’s fifth collegiate CyberForce Competition on Nov. 16. The event brings together student teams from across the country to compete at 10 of DOE’s national laboratories.

According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals could reach 3.5 million by 2021. The CyberForce Competition is designed to inspire and develop the next generation of cybersecurity professionals by helping them hone their skills during interactive and realistic scenarios related to the energy sector.

During the competition, teams will compete to defend simulated energy infrastructure from attacks by adversarial “red teams” composed of industry professionals, all while maintaining service for their “green team” customers, played by volunteers. About 15 ORNL staff will participate as “white team” judges, scoring teams throughout the day and making sure the competition runs smoothly.

“The students have a blast,” said ORNL event organizer Jeffrey A. Nichols, a cybersecurity scientist in the Cyber and Applied Data Analytics Division. “My favorite part is after the competition ends and the red team attackers meet face-to-face with the student teams. This is followed by a dinner where the red team coordinators review how they were able to carry out attacks.”

Scenarios include simulated industrial control system components, real-world anomalies and constraints and interaction with users of the systems. Each team is scored on its ability to safeguard the infrastructure against attacks while keeping the system running. Creative or innovative ideas and defenses are also rewarded in the scoring.

This year students will defend either a solar power plant, an electric grid system, manufacturing facilities or a high-performance computer system. Winners for each laboratory site, as well as a national winner, will be announced following the competition.   

“This competition teaches students real-world cybersecurity skills on how to prepare for, monitor and respond to attacks on their infrastructure. The national labs benefit by making direct connections with top students and university mentors,” Nichols said. “One of our recent interns was a former competition participant, and one of our past adult volunteers from outside ORNL is now an employee here at the lab.”

The competition has steadily expanded since the first event in 2016, attracting more students and sponsors each year. Last year, ORNL hosted five teams at an event in April and 12 teams for a December competition. 

Thirteen colleges will participate at ORNL this year, including Clemson University; Mississippi State University; Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico; Radford University; Tennessee Technological University; University of Alabama, Huntsville; University of Florida; University of North Carolina, Charlotte; University of North Carolina, Wilmington; University of South Alabama; University of Tennessee, Chattanooga; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and University of Virginia.

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; Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

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.

For more information about the competition, visit https://cyberforcecompetition.com/. Follow ORNL Cyber Analytics on Twitter @ORNLCyber for updates.

ORNL is managed by UT–Battelle for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit energy.gov/science.