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A team of students from Texas A&M University placed 10th in the nation out of 108 teams at the Nov. 16 Department of Energy (DOE) CyberForce Competition™, which is a cyber workforce development competition that focuses on the defensive/hardening nature of energy cyber infrastructure. 

The DOE partnered with current national laboratory staff that has successfully hosted four successful cyber defense competitions to exercise interactive, scenario-based events to create this competition. The national labs that hosted were Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Energy Technology Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratory, which is the location at which the Texas A&M team participated.

Image: Department of Energy CyberForce Competition

The competition features realistic components such as a cyber-physical infrastructure, lifelike anomalies and constraints, and actual users of the systems, and is structured with four teams that have different objectives and one panel. The Blue Team interacts with the Green Team to ensure proper IT support is administered as well as provides a creativity pitch to the Chief Information Security Officer panel; the Green Team acts as users and/or operators of the energy infrastructure by testing the usability and availability of the Blue Team’s systems; the White Team, usually national laboratory personnel, are the IT administrators and architects of the competition; the Red Team actively attacks the Blue Team's infrastructure in order to disrupt the availability and usability of the system; and the CISO Panel allows Blue Team members to pitch their level of creativity and innovation in their defense strategy. The Texas A&M team was the only team at their location to keep the Red Team from entering into their system. 

Texas A&M student | Image: Department of Energy CyberForce Competition
The students competing on the team were members of the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Club and included junior Braxton Williams from the College of Education and Human Development; senior Patrick Wlazlo from the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution; senior Philip Smith from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; junior Ryan Jones and senior Nicholas March from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Cybersecurity Club president John Zenick from the Mays Business School. Dr. Kate Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, served as the team’s coach. The Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center, which sponsored the Cybersecurity Club in this competition, seeks to advance the collective cybersecurity knowledge, capabilities and practices, doing so through groundbreaking research, novel and innovative cybersecurity education, and mutually beneficial academic governmental and commercial partnerships.