CYBERSECURITYCollegiate Cyber Defenders Shine in Inaugural Conquer the Hill — Command Edition Competition

By Michael Kooi

Published 21 February 2024

Seventy-five college students competed to test their skills in the fundamentals of IT and cybersecurity infrastructure. The DOE’s CyberForce Program aims to help develop a pipeline of skilled cyber defenders for the energy sector through competitions, webinars, career fairs, and resources for building skills.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory announced the winners of the inaugural CyberForce Conquer the Hill — Command Edition competition which was held on Feb. 17. Rodrigo Santos from the University of Central Florida won the beginner level. Caleb Gindelberger from Baldwin Wallace University won the advanced level.

Seventy-five participants in both levels put their skills to the test to complete a series of security-focused IT administration tasks designed to mirror real-world support for the U.S. energy grid infrastructure. The competition simulated a small business set-up to allow for sales transactions, email notifications, invoice creation and storage handling. Students created and configured operating systems, applications and services. Simultaneously, they administered users, groups, active directories and domains into a multi-machine environment. To attain victory, competitors had to implement different security measures to enhance their small business’s overall cyber posture.

“I am pleased to congratulate the winners of the inaugural CyberForce Conquer the Hill Command competition!” said Puesh Kumar, Director of DOE CESER. ​“This event offers talented, passionate students an opportunity to put their skills to the test in a realistic scenario and is unique in that it includes both foundational and advanced challenges, allowing students with varying levels of experience to participate. Hands-on learning like this is critically important for workforce development as we face down constantly evolving cyber threats in the energy sector and beyond.”

Conquer the Hill — Command Edition is one of three Conquer the Hill virtual, individual-based competitions that aim to help students build their cybersecurity skills prior to the annual team-based CyberForce Competition, which will be held Nov. 8-9. The other two Conquer the Hill Competitions are Adventurer Edition and Reign Edition.

In the November CyberForce Competition, small collegiate teams of four to six members race to keep a virtual energy infrastructure up and running in the face of attacks by professional volunteers.

All of the competitions are developed and conducted by Argonne under the DOE CyberForce Program. They aim to help recruit and advance the skills of the next generation of cyber professionals. According to a 2023 ISC2 study, there is a reported shortage of nearly 500,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the United States. The CyberForce Program’s goal is to help develop a U.S. workforce that can fill them.

“The Conquer the Hill competitions provide college students with an interest in cybersecurity or IT an opportunity to test their skills in cybersecurity, computer science, mathematics, cryptography and critical thinking — and do so in a fun, competitive and engaging way,” said Amanda Theel, Argonne Director of the CyberForce Program. ​“They also show participants what it would be like to work in operational technology and cybersecurity within the energy sector. This is a career path that many of them may not have been aware of previously.”

Michael Kooi is an independent communications specialist. The article was originally posted to the website of the Argonne National Laboratory.