Navy’s First Official Cyber Competition Team
Story by PO2 William Sykes on 09/18/2019
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (NNS) U.S. 10th Fleet assembled the Navy’s first official Cyber Competition Team (CCT) to compete in cyber competitions, August through September.
The CCT is a dedicated effort to display cyber talent and to highlight the spirit of competition, warfighting prowess, and professionalism that the Information Warfare Community brings to the Navy. It aims to enhance cyber skillsets, serve as a recruitment tool, capture industry best practices, manifest new capabilities, and highlight areas for improvement across our cyber force.
“We wanted to find the top performers when it comes to cyber security and maximize their talent by challenging them and give them access to training which makes them better,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Robert Couey, CCT team lead. “In order to join the team, applicants had to get command approval and pass an assessment. The assessment itself was influenced by looking at other challenges that had been offered in competitions fairly recently, things that I thought would be relevant skillsets for the team moving forward and made difficult enough that we could distinguish amongst people. I was impressed with the commitment. You could clearly see the investment in time and that the interest was there in doing this kind of thing.”
The CCT comprises 15 members from across 10th Fleet. During a two-month period, team members participate in training events and attend competitions.
“The cyber competition team is a team that Warrant Couey put together with the purpose of competing in cyber competitions called Capture the Flags (CTF) which are basically puzzles and games for cyber related things such as encoding, cryptography, web exploitation, reverse engineering, forensics,” said Cryptologic Technician (Networks) 2nd Class Race Wickham, assigned to Cyber Defense Activity 64. “We all come from different commands and have different skill sets.”
The skills that the team train on daily go beyond what the team members would normally do in their respective jobs.
“To me, it speaks to creating a culture where we aren’t just focused on entry level talent,” said Couey. “What we are focusing on here is clearly beyond the scope of basic entry-level training. We focus on intermediate and advanced level skills. I think reinforcing that culture inside the Navy is very important because in a great power competition, when you’re facing off against nation-states, you can’t send out the rookies. You can’t send out the first-term sailors who are just getting their head around this. You need to pit expert against expert.”
The CCT are learning skills to overcome challenges from various sources. They are learning from each other, by taking courses, by interactions with subject matter experts from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and from participating in CTFs.
“Being able to train on CTFs allows the team to think outside of the box,” said Mika Ayenson, cyber security researcher at APL. “These are severely difficult challenges that call for creative solutions, and can be solved in a variety of ways. The idea of a team sitting in a room, competing in challenges across the country or across the world, and no kidding’ practicing, it puts them into a mindset that many of our nation-state adversaries are used to experiencing.”
With the members of the CCT being able to focus on developing the skills needed to do well in CTFs, they have been able to work efficiently as a team.
“I’ve seen them improve, not just in skill, but in how they communicate as a team,” said Ayenson. “They’ve developed a process which has been beneficial. They’ve put some thought and design into the way they communicate the small things like how to best utilize the chat systems, how they divvy up the work and how do they work together when half the team is remote. They’ve improved and come up with their own CCT process and flavor.”
While the team is training and learning valuable skills, they will have something to take back with them when their time together is over.
“I really don’t think they know how good they are,” said Ayenson. “This is the type of team that I’d want to assess my security posture. Not because they are the best adversaries, not because they are the best at CTFs, but because they are exercising skills that improve their chances of solving a problem and testing the security state of whatever system they are trying to secure.”
FCC is responsible for Navy information network operations, offensive and defensive cyberspace operations, space operations and signals intelligence. Comprised of more than 14,000 Sailors, Reservists and civilians stationed across the world, C10F is the operational arm of FCC and executes its mission through a task force structure similar to other warfare commanders.
For news and information from Commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command / U.S. 10th Fleet, visit www.navy.mil/local/FCCC10F/ or follow us on twitter @USFLEETCYBERCOM.