ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- A team of Naval Academy midshipmen won the National Security Agency's (NSA) annual Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) conducted April 20-23.
The academy team, led by Midshipmen 1/C Justin Monroe and Christopher Wheeler, competed with teams from the Military Academy, Air Force Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, Naval Postgraduate School and Air Force Institute of Technology. The midshipmen last won the CDX trophy in 2005.
CDX is an inter-service cyber security competition that challenges teams to effectively defend their virtual computer network against malicious attack. Each year, the exercise is designed around a specific scenario, with constraints such as time, resources and information about the "attacker" based on the scenario.
"The competition is designed to simulate a real working environment with user workstations, servers, firewalls and other equipment commonly found in networks," said Monroe, who will serve as a surface information warfare officer after graduation in May. "After the network designs are approved, teams begin building them and must overcome any problems inherent in their original designs."
The teams must choose how to utilize the resources at their disposal to best defend their virtual network and to keep certain "critical services" running, while the "attackers" (the NSA team that has designed the competition) attempt to infiltrate the network and disrupt these services.
The competition is designed to give students experience with designing and implementing computer security solutions with limited resources as well as spark some friendly competition between the services. Students learn how to work with a team to ensure that their plan will effectively protect their network from attacks and how to react when the defenses do not work as expected.
"Because the task is very technical and difficult in a number of areas, we assigned positions to underclassmen, giving them areas of study to help build the network, and we ultimately relied on their research during the competition," said Monroe. "The machines and services they built on their own are the ones we use in the competition. This mirrors the fleet in a number of ways, primarily delegating tasks to subordinates and trusting the work they do."
Additionally, students gain experience using the tools that are used every day to defend Department of Defense networks against cyber attacks.
"I think the experience has shown that a lot of different people can come together and build something that they would have struggled to do on their own. Getting help from one another was key to getting the network done," said Monroe. "I think I speak for everyone on the team when I say we wouldn't have changed anything. We really came together as a team and got the job done."
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