Newswise — In a first-time virtual contest, Argonne researchers will challenge hundreds of college students to defend simulated energy-sector infrastructure against cyberattacks.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will host its sixth CyberForce Competition™ on November 14. The event, which challenges college students to compete in a realistic cybersecurity defense exercise, helps build the cybersecurity workforce of the future.

Given the current global health crisis, the event will be held virtually this year, and individuals rather than teams will represent their respective academic institutions. As in previous events, competitors will defend cyber systems of simulated critical infrastructure against threats modeled on those faced by the energy sector today.

We’re inspiring the next generation of cybersecurity professionals with this competition,” said Amanda Joyce, CyberForce Competition director and cybersecurity analysis group lead at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. ​The nation needs this talent to safeguard critical energy infrastructure and other assets.”

Argonne, which hosted the first-ever CyberForce Competition in 2016, manages the competition on behalf of DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER). Other DOE national laboratories joining this year’s event are Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories. Approximately 400 students from accredited U.S. institutions will be selected to participate by random lottery.

The American cybersecurity workforce must grow 62 percent — or nearly 500,000 professionals — to fill the current skills gap, according to the trade organization (ISC)2. As the U.S. economy, and especially the energy sector, runs increasingly on computers and networks, the need for talented cybersecurity experts is acute and growing.

Each year the CyberForce Competition presents participants with a realistic scenario in which they must defend a specific energy-related cyber-physical infrastructure against attack. This year, the scenario involves a wind energy company in charge of over 20,000 megawatts of electricity generation that has been experiencing abnormal network activity.

The U.S. energy sector is under constant threat of cyberattacks,” said Mark Wesley Menezes, Deputy Secretary of Energy. ​The CyberForce Competition is unique in that it trains the next generation of cyber professionals on defending the energy infrastructure while also maintaining usability of the systems.”     

Competitors in CyberForce get a unique chance to experience what it’s like to respond to a cyberattack and test their skills in real time,” said Argonne cybersecurity expert Nate Evans. ​It’s also a venue to interact with industry and laboratory experts — people who are in careers today that students might embark on tomorrow.”

Alongside DOE CESER, the competition is co-funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, and the DOE Office of Science. Corporate sponsors of this year’s event include SANS, Cobalt Strike, Federal Training Partnership, Microsoft Azure Government, (ISC)2, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Public Power Association, ICF, Trustwave, KeyLogic, General Atomics Electromagnetics, National Association of State Energy Officials, ComEd, CybatiWorks, and ISACA.  

For more information about the CyberForce Competition, visit https://​cyber​forcecom​pe​ti​tion​.com/.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy supports early-stage research and development of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies to strengthen U.S. economic growth, energy security, and environmental quality.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.