CHARLESTON, S.C. — The ninth annual Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition (PCDC), facilitated by Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic in collaboration with the South Carolina Lowcountry Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), was held in person April 9-11 at the Exchange Park in North Charleston, South Carolina.
The goal of PCDC is to energize South Carolina high school and collegiate students, as well as some cyber security professional and business organizations, to focus on the development of networking and cyber security skills through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). During the competitions, students from each school or organization formed Blue Teams that operated and secured the combined systems of a digital cooperative network. The teams were challenged to properly configure or reconfigure an information technology (IT) network, add new services and respond to additional requirements – all while defending against Red Team hackers attempting to disrupt their network.
“We are excited to be back together safely in person this year after cancelling our 2020 engagement and holding our first completely virtual competition in 2021,” said Scott Bell, NIWC Atlantic Battlespace Awareness Division Cyber Lead and serving his first year as PCDC director.
“It’s clear the students are enjoying the competition. The unique ability we have to stage social engineering injects other challenges in the live environment that just weren’t possible online. Not to mention the comradery, friendly competition, mentoring and learning that occur in face-to-face interactions.”
The event drew nearly 135 dedicated high school and collegiate students who gave up their weekend to compete with the assistance of more than 100 volunteers from NIWC Atlantic, AFCEA and corporate partners who coordinated and facilitated the competition.
High school students from across the state competed in the April 9 competition with Palmetto Scholars Academy from Charleston defending their first place title. H B Swofford Career Center, competing for their first year, and the Home School Support Network earned second and third place respectively.
The high school competition was open to all schools in the state of South Carolina but only ten teams could qualify to compete. The top three teams from the previous year were invited back, while the remaining seven positions qualified through the state round of the CyberPatriot Competition. Other competing schools included the Charleston area’s Academic Magnet High School, Palmetto Scholars Academy, Ashley Ridge High School, Porter-Gaud School, Stratford High School, and two teams from Wando High School, as well as South Aiken High School in Aiken.
The collegiate competition was held April 10, and was open to colleges and universities in North and South Carolina as well as the United States Naval Academy (USNA) team from Annapolis, Maryland. Three of the ten slots were designated for the top three teams of the previous year. The remaining teams qualified through the Southeast Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
Clemson University defended their position as the first place champion, while The Citadel and USNA took second and third place. Other collegiate competitors included: College of Charleston, Horry Georgetown Technical College, ECPI University, Trident Technical College, Charleston Southern University, University of South Carolina and University of North Carolina Wilmington.
PCDC also hosted the Southeast Region Collegiate Hack Warz® competition at the event for the second year, which included five teams and took place concurrently with the high school competition. Teams of three students each were challenged to compromise several systems and gain valuable tokens (flags) for points. Teams from USNA won both first and second place and third place went to The Citadel.
The cyber defense competition is part of a growing movement to develop technical skills and interest in the area of networking and cyber security in preparation for exciting and critical careers in STEM.
“This kind of experience will give you an edge and a platform to apply your skillsets to a real-world situation,” said Dr. Shankar Banik, Professor and Graduate Program Director of Computer Science, and Co-director for the Center for Cyber, Intelligence and Security Studies at The Citadel and keynote speaker for the high school day competition.
“A degree is one thing, a certification is one thing, but learning in this way how to do the critical work of hardening systems and testing your skills is invaluable. Cyberspace is a battlefield and the adversary is always out there. Students like you give us hope and we need you defending our country in the cyber environment.”
According to Bell, NIWC Atlantic and its industry partners utilize PCDC as a means of identifying upcoming local talent in the cyber security field. Many of the past competitors who have accepted positions with NIWC Atlantic now also support the PCDC competition to encourage new professionals to consider working in support of the Navy’s mission. This year the NIWC team identified several students with great hiring potential and solicited resumes from them at the event.
Shaping the cyber workforce of the future is a major goal of the competition, which leverages the role of collaboration between Department of Defense (DOD) and industry partners.
“Events like this one enable us to grow together in our cyber security capabilities,” said Peter C. Reddy, NIWC Atlantic Executive Director and keynote speaker for PCDC’s Pro Day competition. “China has become a pacing threat for DOD and we need to continue to assist each other in being ready and relevant as a nation in the cyber environment to counter the threats of this adversary and others. Our adversaries are actively closing the advantage. It is our job as government and industry to work together to expand it once again.”
Toward this goal of continued collaboration and skills development, DOD teams, including Fleet Cyber Command and a first-time appearance by Air Force Cyber Command, joined several corporate groups to compete in PCDC’s Pro Day April 11, each with embedded college students on their teams. This event is considered an important annual training opportunity for industry professionals and draws friendly competition between government and industry colleagues.
About NIWC Atlantic
As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.
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