Cybersecurity EducationUniversity of Central Florida Students Defend Virtual Energy System to Win CyberForce Competition

Published 18 November 2021

The Knights of the University of Central Florida won the DOE’s CyberForce Competition, valiantly defending and securing a hydropower energy system against a malicious virtual cyberattack. The event challenged 120 teams from 105 colleges and universities to thwart a simulated cyberattack.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a team from the University of Central Florida as the national winner of its seventh CyberForce Competition held on Nov. 13. The event challenged 120 teams from 105 colleges and universities to thwart a simulated cyberattack.

“As cyber threats grow and we continue to develop the clean energy grid of the future, recruiting and retaining a highly skilled workforce to protect and defend our nation’s energy systems is critical,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy David Turk. “I’m proud of the students who joined us this past weekend to expand their cyber skills and knowledge, while channeling their passion for cybersecurity.” 

The CyberForce Competition is part of DOE’s CyberForce Program, which seeks to inspire and develop the next generation of energy sector cyber defenders. Students can learn and practice skills that will be relevant to a career safeguarding the nation’s critical infrastructure, including power plants and other energy facilities. 

Each CyberForce Competition centers around an interactive, scenario-based event where participants get to test their cyber defense skills in real time. In this year’s scenario, participants were challenged to harden and secure systems of a hydropower company — along with the systems of one of its recently acquired subsidiaries — against a malicious cyberattack, all while maintaining service for customers. 

“This year marked the strongest CyberForce Competition yet,” said Amanda Joyce, CyberForce Program director and cybersecurity analysis group lead at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. ​“We continue to work on developing the growing cyber workforce through the CyberForce Program, and every year it amazes me how many student competitors we see return to participate either as a student team member or as a volunteer. It’s great to see that CyberForce really makes a lasting impression.” 

Argonne, which hosted the first-ever CyberForce event in 2016, managed this year’s virtual competition on behalf of DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response. Fellow DOE laboratories Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories partnered with Argonne to provide technical support. 

Winners of the 2021 CyberForce Competition are: 

·  First place: University of Central Florida.

·  Second place: University of California, Santa Cruz.

·  Third place: Pennsylvania State University.

The CyberForce Program expanded in 2021, adding two engaging, interactive virtual mini competitions that provide students with more chances to learn about cybersecurity topics and test their skills. In the Conquer the Hill: Reign Edition competition, held on Sept. 18, Kyle Sferrazza of Northeastern University won the virtual skirmish-based mission that tested participants’ skills with a timed capture-the-flag competition. Cameron Whitehead, also of the University of Central Florida, won the Adventurer Edition, the first Conquer the Hill event, on July 18.