ISSN 2330-717X

Collegiate Students Fired Up To Protect Virtual Solar Facility From Cyberattack

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Argonne will lead the 2022 CyberForce Competition®, encouraging U.S. college and university students to consider cybersecurity careers that protect the nation’s energy systems.

College and university students from across the United States will attempt to thwart a simulated cyberattack on the solar installation of an up-and-coming electric vehicle manufacturer in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) CyberForce Competition®. The event, led by DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, will take place at Q Center (St. Charles, Illinois) on Nov. 4 and 5, as well as in a virtual format. 

The CyberForce Competition is part of DOE’s CyberForce® Program, which focuses on developing the next generation of cyber defenders. The CyberForce Competition offers students an engaging opportunity to learn and practice skills that will be relevant in careers safeguarding the nation’s critical energy sector, including power plants and renewable energy facilities.  

“Cybersecurity is critical in the energy sector as our systems become increasingly interconnected and complex,” said Puesh Kumar, Director of DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). ​“Preparing the cyber professionals of the future is as important as improving the technology we use to protect our infrastructure. The CyberForce competition is an unparalleled opportunity for students to gain real-world experience as they test their cybersecurity skills to protect energy infrastructure.” 

The competition uses realistic components, such as cyberphysical infrastructure, lifelike anomalies and constraints, and actual users of the systems to engage students in compelling emergency scenarios. Through the competition, participants and volunteers increase their knowledge and understanding of cyberphysical threats, vulnerabilities and consequences. They experience a hands-on security approach to infrastructure from their servers and virtual machines to physical devices on their tables. All competitors have the strain of balancing security with usability, as their scores include users’ ability to continue normal work operations. 

In this year’s scenario, students will be charged with helping a fast-growing electric vehicle manufacturer harden and secure the systems of its recently acquired solar installation. The installation appears compromised. A thorough assessment of its vulnerabilities and a series of innovations are needed to protect and strengthen it against existing and future attacks.  

The competition is managed by CESER, with Argonne as the lead national laboratory providing leadership, planning and subject matter expertise. In addition, DOE national laboratories Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are partnering with Argonne to provide technical support.  

This year is the first time the competition will be offered both virtually and in-person. Previous competitions have included as many as 119 teams.  

“We’re excited to offer the CyberForce Competition in person again after two years of virtual-only formats, and we are taking advantage of what we learned during the pandemic to offer a virtual experience for remote competitors, too,” said Amanda Theel, CyberForce Program director and cybersecurity workforce development group lead at Argonne. ​“Interest in the program is greater than ever, and so is the need for a skilled cybersecurity workforce.”  

In addition to the team competition on Nov. 4 and 5, the CyberForce Program has grown to include a ​“Conquer the Hill” series of engaging, interactive mini-competitions for individual competitors; regular webinars featuring subject matter experts, DOE leadership and past competitors; and an engaging virtual career fair where participants of the program can speak to industry about internships, jobs, certifications, educational needs and more. 

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