Simulated Cybersecurity Attack Exercises Gaining in Importance and Frequency


While the U.S. electric sector has so far been able to keep hackers from actually disrupting operations, experts say that it is only a matter of time. Adding to the concern is that, according to Argonne National Laboratory, the global shortage of cybersecurity experts will reach 3.5 million by 2021. 

As the threat of cyberattacks loom, government organizations have several events planned for November, including a new competition for experienced cyber defenders. 

On Nov. 13 and 14, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) held its biennial GridEx event. First completed in 2011, GridEx consists of geographically-distributed exercises simulating cyberattacks. The exercises give utilities, governmental bodies and other participants a chance to practice how they would respond and recover from coordinated cyber and physical security threats and incidents. The aim is for participants to strengthen and expand their crisis response functions, gather input for lessons learned, improve communication and engage interdependent sectors amongst other goals. 

Following GridEx, on Nov. 15 and 16, the Department of Energy (DOE) is holding its fifth annual CyberForce Competition. This event, held at 10 of DOE’s National Laboratories around the nation, will challenge 105 college teams to defend a simulated energy infrastructure from cyberattacks by adversarial “red teams” composed of industry professionals, all while maintaining service for their “green team” customers, composed of volunteers. A national winner will be announced at the end of the competition.

Concurrent with the CyberForce Competition, DOE will also be hosting a CyberForce Competition Professional Pilot at Argonne National Laboratory, during which experienced cyber defenders will test their cyber prowess in a similar cyber-defense simulation. According to the CyberForce Professional website, applicants should be seeking employment, be U.S. citizens, and be able to travel to one of the two laboratory sites. CyberForce Competition scores will be considered when hiring for current and future DOE positions.

“The nation’s energy infrastructure is becoming increasingly reliant on digital controls and communications,” said Amanda Joyce, CyberForce Competition director and cybersecurity analysis group lead at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. “The idea behind the competition is to build a strong workforce to defend this infrastructure from cyberattacks.”

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