Air Force wins cyber exercise

The Air Force Academy recently beat out the four other military service academies in the Cyber Defense Exercise, a training tool designed to prepare students to protect and defend the nation's critical information systems.

Each student team was challenged to configure a secure network of computers to serve both local and remote users. The exercise environment was created to represent coalition information sharing. The students entered into direct cybercombat with so-called red forces that challenged them to keep their systems online and functional.

Each team was evaluated on how well it maintained services and its efforts to recover from and prevent future security breaches, according to the National Security Agency, which sponsored the event with the U.S. Military Academy.

In addition to requiring each school to host a "rogue" computer controlled by the red forces, this year's exercise differed from the previous two years in many ways. The networks at each academy represented a collection of coalition partners deployed as regional commands, said Army Lt. Col. Daniel Ragsdale, director of the information technology and operations center in the electrical engineering and computer science department at the U.S. Military Academy.

"Sharing services adds a realistic element to the exercise and introduces the threat of 'insiders,' " Ragsdale said. "The focus is on keeping services available while maintaining the integrity of information. These partners are not allowed to have full, unfettered access to all of the systems or services."

Other changes to make the exercise more realistic included leaving the design of the network topology up to the students, letting the students select the operating systems that would run on the more than 20 servers available to them and requiring students to identify software and applications to address 10 major system requirements.

The Air Force Academy team beat out the Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy and the two-time defending champions, the U.S. Military Academy.

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