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CyLab-inspired Curriculum Leads to 3rd “Cyberstakes” Hacking Competition for US Service Academies

posted by Daniel Tkacik
March 7, 2016

When DARPA Program Manager Daniel “Rags” Ragsdale asked his colleagues how to create a hacking competition to train the service academies, they all said the same thing.

“Without exception, they all said, ‘Go to Pittsburgh. You need to have a conversation with Dr. Brumley,’” Ragsdale recalled. “I’d never met Dr. Brumley. I was just going off the recommendations of people I deeply respected.”

With the help of CyLab Director David Brumley, Ragsdale created “Cyberstakes,” a full-fledged offense / defense hacking competition in which students from every United States service academy could participate in. DARPA launched the pilot competition in 2014, and this year sponsorship transitioned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The Department of Defense (DoD) hosted its 3rd annual Cyberstakes Feb. 5-7.

“This year's Cyberstakes competition represented an exciting new level of challenging hands-on engagement,” Frank C. DiGiovanni, the Defense Department’s director of force training, told DoD News in a recent interview. “It bodes well for our nation's cyber training pipeline.”

A combined total of 48 cadets and midshipmen from the military academy, air force academy, naval academy, and coast guard participated in this year’s contest, which used CyLab-inspired curriculum executed by Brumley’s CMU-spinoff, ForAllSecure. Four active-duty members of the U.S. Army’s Cyber Protection Brigade also participated, a first for the brigade.

Over the course of three days, participants competed in a range of events including reverse engineering, cryptography, cyber forensics, identifying vulnerabilities and launching attacks on executable programs. Participants also competed analog version of computer hacking: lock-picking.

“By having a competition that reinforces their skills, and is at the same time fun, it helps people keep interested in it,” said Commander Mike Bilzor, professor in the Computer Science Department at the U.S. Naval Academy and one of several faculty mentors at this year’s Cyberstakes competition. “It’s less like homework, less like classwork, and it’s more fun, more interesting.”

The U.S. Military Academy took home the top prize this year, winning 15 gold, 12 silver and eight bronze metals in total. They were trailed by the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, who won three gold, six silver and 11 bronze metals, and the U.S. Naval Academy, who won eight gold, seven silver and three bronze.

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