After months of preparation and a fierce competition, the U.S. Air Force Academy defended its title as the champions of the Agency’s annual NSA Cyber Exercise (NCX).
The team emerged victorious after a three-day-long cyber competition that put U.S. service academies, senior military colleges, and NSA professional development programs to the test to prepare them to defend the Nation’s cyber networks.
GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, USCYBERCOM, Director, NSA/Chief, CSS, awarded the Air Force Academy’s cyber competition team with the NCX trophy last week.
“Congratulations to the U.S Air Force,” GEN Nakasone virtually said. “Although the exercise was a simulation, we hope that today you acquired a deeper understanding of the current threat environment, and had the opportunity to learn new offensive and defensive techniques and tools.”
The U.S. Military Academy placed second, while the U.S Coast Guard Academy finished third, beating out the U.S. Naval Academy and the senior military colleges, including Norwich, Texas A&M, The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, and University of North Georgia.
Now in its sixth year, the NCX is a year-round program that culminates with a three-day, unclassified cyber competition that advances strategic cybersecurity goals by developing and testing cybersecurity skills, teamwork, planning, communication, and decision-making.
“NCX is an outstanding annual experience for our cadets because it provides a chance to see where their cyber security skills are in comparison to other academies,” said LT Ryan T. Quarry, Instructor, Department of Electrical Engineering & Computing, U.S. Coast Guard Academy. “Some competitions focus on single topics such as cryptography, while others focus on real world enterprise simulations. Over the three-day competition period, NCX combines both competition approaches which really maximizes the benefit to our team.”
This year’s theme was transportation and food-related infrastructure, with exercises focusing on data analysis, forensics, reverse engineering, and policy, along with the final attack-and-defend cyber combat exercise.
“Approach the problems from the mindset of a hacker,” said MajGen Lorna Mahlock, deputy director for Combat Support within NSA’s Cybersecurity Directorate. “At NSA, our unique insights come from this ability to disrupt and dismantle the adversary by getting inside their heads, understanding their tactics and techniques, and predicting their intended outcome.”
During the final cyber combat exercise, participants were able to test and put into action their cybersecurity knowledge against each other and an unknown third-party adversary. Successful teams required coordination and planning, communication, teamwork, and decision-making skills.
“I love shaping the next generation of cyber warriors,” NCX Program Manager Kelley Welch said. “This competition gives me personal satisfaction that the world will be in good hands.”
Welch is excited about the potential of once again having NCX hosted in-person in the future.
“We want to challenge them,” she said. “Participants enjoy the collaboration and competing in real-world scenarios and the ability to show off their skills. I’m looking forward to the possibilities of enhancing both outside the virtual environment.”
For more information on NCX, visit the NSA Cyber Exercise webpage.