Cadets fight in cyberwar

Cadets fight in cyberwar
Cadets fight in cyberwar 

April 24, 2008
Bleary-eyed cadets at the Air Force Academy, including members of a 
group dubbed the "nerdy dozen" for its computer prowess, have spent the 
week battling the nation's electronic spy agency in an all-out cyberwar.
The cadets and students at other military-run schools nationwide are 
competing in the National Security Agency's 8th Annual Cyber Defense 
Exercise. The team that wins is the team that can defend its specially 
built computer network from viruses, e-mail attacks and security 
penetrations by the NSA's world-class hackers.
It's an around-the-clock job.
"The cadets are so exhausted, they've been taking naps in the computer 
lab," said Capt. Sean Butler, a computer science teacher overseeing the 
academy's team.
Using computers supplied by the NSA, the cadets have spent weeks 
assembling a computer network that's a smaller version of the one used 
at Air Force bases. Everything is kept separate from other school 
networks so the make-believe war doesn't spill over and crash computers 
that aren't in the game.
Cadets said this time the NSA's devious minds cooked up a new twist on 
older exercises. The computers they supplied the academy were loaded 
with legitimate-looking software with well-hidden traps. On Tuesday, the 
cadet-built network was thoroughly hacked through using programs the NSA 
had hidden on the machines.
"There were certain things that should have been caught earlier," said 
senior cadet Tom Aseltine of Wilton, Me.
In the exercise, the cadets strictly focus on defense - preventing and 
overcoming attacks. The goal is to keep their network functioning so 
services such as e-mail and Internet access remain functional despite 
the NSA's best efforts.
"We seem to be doing pretty well," said senior cadet Brad Seehawer of 
Milwaukee, who has been working 14-hour days in the computer lab since 
the NSA's Tuesday offensive.
The NSA, in an extremely rare news release, said the exercise teaches 
military leaders about the importance of cyberspace in warfare.
"The Cyber Defense Exercise is a computer security competition designed 
to foster education and awareness among future military leaders about 
the role of information assurance in protecting the nation's critical 
information systems," according to the agency, which is the home of 
America's code breakers and also spies on e-mail and phone calls of 
America's enemies.
Air Force leaders last year established Cyber Command on the theory that 
future enemies will try to destroy America's computer networks as an 
opening salvo in a war. Colorado Springs remains among several cities in 
the running to become Cyber Command's permanent home.
Cadet John Cobb, a member of the "nerdy dozen," said he was impressed 
with the NSA's ability to stay a step ahead of the cadets.
"It can also be a humbling experience," said senior cadet Cobb, of 

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