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Five College Teams to Converge at Berkeley Lab for DOE CyberForce Competition

Cyberforce competitors and support staff from the 2018 event at Berkeley Lab. (credit: Paul Mueller)

Five teams of college students will square off at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) on Nov. 16 as part of DOE’s fifth CyberForce Competition.

The event, held simultaneously at ten of the DOE’s National Laboratories across the United States, will challenge 105 college teams to defend a simulated energy infrastructure from cyber-attacks. The CyberForce Competition is designed to inspire and develop the next generation of energy sector cybersecurity professionals by giving them a chance to hone their skills during interactive and realistic scenarios.

Berkeley Lab will host teams from Cal State San Bernardino, City College of San Francisco, Saddleback College, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis. The teams will participate in Berkeley Lab’s Shyh Wang Hall, home to the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

During the competition, teams will compete to defend their simulated infrastructure from attacks by adversarial “red teams” composed of cybersecurity industry professionals, all while maintaining service for their “green team” customers, played by volunteers. There are four different scenarios; the teams competing at Berkeley Lab will defend a high-performance computing data center from cyberattacks.

A national winner, as well as winners for each laboratory site, will be announced following the competition.

“The cybersecurity of our energy infrastructure is a high priority for DOE and the nation, and it is critical that we help train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals to ensure we are prepared to meet this need,” said Horst Simon, Berkeley Lab’s Deputy Director for Research. “We are proud to participate in this year’s Cyberforce Competition and host five college teams from California as they defend their simulated data center against realistic threats faced in the sector today.”

The competition is co-funded by the DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER); Office of Science; Office of the Chief Information Officer; Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy; and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“The collegiate CyberForce Competition is designed to expose cybersecurity undergraduates to the unique challenges of an operational technology environment,” Karen S. Evans, Assistant Secretary for CESER, said. “There are no better ambassadors to educational institutions than the DOE National Labs, who have a notable history of building relationships within their local academic institutions and communities.”

The competition has steadily expanded since the first event in 2016 at Argonne National Lab, attracting more students and sponsors every year. Other laboratories participating in this year’s event are Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

The 2019 event presents teams with the challenge of not only defending one of four system scenarios, but communicating with the other three infrastructures to monitor and maintain the integrity of the system as a whole. The challenges 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 ensuring the usability of the system. “Out of the box” or innovative ideas and defenses are also rewarded in the scoring.

“During CyberForce, you’re seeing and hearing the effects of a cyberattack in real time, at your table, which is really cool,” said Andrew Hughes, a college student whose team from the University of Central Florida won the competition last year. “Obviously, we need more research and development as a whole, and by educating people, we’ll make better progress. CyberForce is a very valuable tool in that respect.”

The event aims to attract more promising talent to the cybersecurity field by offering memorable hands-on experiences and highlighting the crucial role this field plays in preserving national energy security.

For more information about the competition, visit https://cyberforcecompetition.com/.

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Founded in 1931 on the belief that the biggest scientific challenges are best addressed by teams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and its scientists have been recognized with 13 Nobel Prizes. Today, Berkeley Lab researchers develop sustainable energy and environmental solutions, create useful new materials, advance the frontiers of computing, and probe the mysteries of life, matter, and the universe. Scientists from around the world rely on the Lab’s facilities for their own discovery science. Berkeley Lab is a multiprogram national laboratory, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

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

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