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Naval Academy mids match wits with NSA in cyber war




Naval Academy mids match wits with NSA in cyber war
Naval Academy mids match wits with NSA in cyber war



http://www.hometownannapolis.com/cgi-bin/read/2007/04_20-70/NAV 

By Earl Kelly
Staff Writer
April 20, 2007

A roomful of Naval Academy midshipmen hovered over computer terminals 
yesterday afternoon, defending their installation from attack.

They were trying to ward off an enemy intent on disrupting the computer 
system that could control the positioning of ships and aircraft, and the 
supply of fuel, food and medicines.

On the wall was the Naval Academy's main password for this exercise, but 
midshipmen and professors screamed "No!" when a reporter started to copy 
it.

In this modern-day war game, mids were matching wits with a team of 
about 50 computer whizzes from the National Security Agency, all of whom 
were intent on worming their way into the computer system the midshipmen 
built.

Like sentries in Gen. Washington's Revolutionary War army, the mids had 
to safeguard passwords from a devious enemy, and like the soldiers and 
sailors who fought World War II, they had to make sure everything was 
safely encrypted.

"We really believe this is the next threat to our country; many believe 
the next war will be fought in the cyber world," said Air Force Major 
Tom Augustine, who teaches computer science at the Naval Academy.

This marked the 7th Annual Cyber Defense Exercise. All five service 
academies - Naval, Military, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
- were participating in the five-day competition that started Monday.

The winner receives a brass-and-marble trophy that's about the size of 
the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, awarded to the service academy with the 
victorious football team. For the past year, the trophy has been parked 
at the Air Force academy, and this year the mids are intent on bringing 
it back "home" to Annapolis.

The theme for this year's exercise was "Protecting the Matrix," to 
remind the future officers that a strong cyber defense is key to winning 
wars and protecting the nation.

Each year, NSA dedicates two teams to the competition - the "red" team, 
tries to hack into computer systems the service academies create for 
this exercise, while the "white" team grades the results.

Each academy starts out with 50,000 points, and NSA deducts points as an 
and protecting the nation.

Each year, NSA dedicates two teams to the competition - the "red" team, 
tries to hack into computer systems the service academies create for 
this exercise, while the "white" team grades the results.

Each academy starts out with 50,000 points, and NSA deducts points as an 
academy's system is compromised.

NSA does give the academies a chance to earn bonus points by invading a 
designated NSA computer, but that can turn into a Trojan horse.

After all, NSA is the enemy, and the enemy wants the good guys to waste 
their resources.

"It is fun, and it gives you bonus points, but it takes your people 
away," said Naval Academy team commander Midshipman 1st Class Gregory A. 
Mischler.

The service academies get more competitive each year, said Midshipman 
Mischler, a senior who plans to specialize in nuclear power after he is 
commissioned next month.

"In past years, some team would screw up and take themselves out of the 
competition," he said. "Those big mistakes that would have taken us out, 
we now spot them."

NSA makes the competition tougher each year, according to Dr. Kay 
Schulze, chairman of the Naval Academy Computer Science Department. "The 
kids six years ago would have been 'red' (compromised) within hours, and 
five years from now, these kids would be 'red' in hours."

Adjunct professor Angela Reninger, on assignment to the academy from 
NSA, worked with the midshipmen in preparing for this year's war games. 
"This whole CDX exercise is very close to what the real world - and 
especially the military - is seeing," she said yesterday.

Midshipman Mischler said the one thing to always remember when designing 
and defending a computer system is the human element.

"If a guy is a Giants fan, how hard is it to figure out he has 'Giants' 
as his password?" Midshipman Mischler said.

The academy has 41 mids working on the exercise this year, 15 of whom 
are seniors.

The midshipmen spent about six months designing and building their 
computer system for the exercise.

CDX is not an "official" academy function, so the mids do this on their 
own time and do not receive academic or extracurricular credit.

Some of the event organizers say they prefer CDX remain completely 
voluntary, because it attracts dedicated and talented mids, from 
freshmen to seniors, who do it for the experience, not for the credit.

The competition will end today, and NSA will tally the service 
academies' scores over the next two weeks, Naval Academy officials said.

-=-

Published April 20, 2007, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.


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