Service academies duel NSA hackers in cyber warfare exercise

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Service academies duel NSA hackers in cyber warfare exercise

Cadets at the nation’s military academies are currently facing NSA hackers in the sixth annual Cyber Defense Exercise. The exercise, which began yesterday, requires cadets to fortify and defend their computer networks against attacks. NSA seems to have the upper hand at the moment: Apparently there already has been a “blue screen of death” on one Navy computer.

The Cyber Defense Exercise lasts for four days and gives undergraduates a glimpse into what they may face as IT administrators. Students have to set up a computer network complete with VPNs, databases and web servers. In addition, some Windows domain controllers are thrown into the mix. In 2004, exercise organizers started allowing participants to use social engineering attacks and turned the event into a 24 hour affair.

In previous years, success was determined not by preventing the NSA from hacking the computers, but by getting hacked the least. The NSA team, called the “Red Team,” routinely has broken into participants networks, often without any warning.

Participating in this year’s exercise are undergraduate students from West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, U.S Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. Each team consist of around a dozen cadets, managing a few dozen computers. NSA computer experts based in Fort Meade Maryland play the bad guys. Last year, the United States Naval Academy achieved top honors.