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NEWS | Sept. 22, 2020

Navy presses forward HACKtheMACHINE 2020 despite COVID

By Naval Systems Engineering Public Affairs Office

NEW YORK (Sept. 7, 2019) A team of Naval Midshipmen and Air Force Airmen from the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy participate in track one during HacktheMachine competition at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, Sept. 7, 2019.

190907-N-WX378-0295 NEW YORK (Sept. 7, 2019) A team of Naval Midshipmen and Air Force Airmen from the Naval Academy and Air Force Academy participate in rack one during HacktheMachine competition at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York City, Sept. 7, 2019. HACKtheMACHINE is where people from diverse backgrounds and professions work alongside military and government personnel to help the U.S. Navy solve its foremost cyber and technical problems. (U.S.  Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Bryan lyankoff/Released)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nefarious actors continue to conduct cyberattacks on the United States in spite of the COVID 19 epidemic, and the U.S. Navy will continue to strengthen the protection of its data during its premier digital experience, HACKtheMACHINE 2020, Sept. 21-27.

Now in its fifth iteration, HACKtheMACHINE is an annual Navy-sponsored event that brings together technologists from the military, private and public industries and academia in a competitive environment to collaborate and share cybersecurity and information technology. Knowledge gained from this event provides the Navy with insights and strategies to further protect the data of its multitudes of networks and ships.

“Although the competition’s goal is for teams to showcase their talent, the ultimate goal is to leverage the data and techniques from the challenges to build a roadmap with which the Navy can expand its cybersecurity practices,” said Lt. Cmdr.  Arthur Anderson on the NAVSEA Chief Engineer’s staff.

Participants come from different areas of expertise with varied skill and experience levels. In previous years, the events were held in person. This year, because of COVID 19 and social distancing guidelines, organizers delayed the in-person competitions until 2021. To maintain the HACKtheMACHINE cadence, the Navy decided to hold the first of its three tracks virtually.

“In concert with NAVSEA’s ‘open for business’ and ‘on time delivery’ model, we wanted to hold part of HACKtheMACHINE virtually this year to ensure continuity of business, and to challenge the Navy to explore new ways of executing the mission,” said Tim Barnard, the deputy chief technology officer at NAVSEA.

Although HACKtheMACHINE’s 2020 tracks two and three will take place in March 2021, track one, which is composed of three phases, will be held later this month and is free and open to the public.

Contestants will start the challenge by analyzing traffic captured from a maritime navigation electronics to identify the sensors and devices on the network. Training will help new members of the HACKtheMACHINE community understand the data and begin to apply their own creative solutions as they work alongside their teammates.

Maritime cybersecurity skills integrate with traditional enterprise cybersecurity skills to form defense-in-depth for afloat systems. HACKtheMACHINE Virtual brings this reality into the game format with a “Jeopardy!”-style opportunity for existing cyber experts to score points while they learn some unique maritime skills over the course of the event. 

The final phase builds upon the first two challenges, where top contestants will earn a spot to "attack" an actual maritime cyber testbed over the internet. The Grace Cyber Testbed, used for this phase of the game, represents a unique opportunity to apply new ideas in cybersecurity research to many systems found aboard a commercial vessel.

“The military’s aviation community attracts talent through the Blue Angels,” Anderson said. “Well, HACKtheMACHINE is our Blue Angels for geeks. We want to attract the attention of talented people who might have not thought of serving in the Navy, whether as a Sailor or civilian.

HACKtheMACHINE also showcases the Navy’s drive to optimize its technology, attracting talented professionals who previously had not considered service in the Navy, Anderson added.

According to Barnard, the ultimate purpose is to continue to build momentum with this virtual event.

“Talent and technology are critical commodities in the Great Power Competition, and whether conducted virtually or in-person, HACKtheMACHINE will enable the Navy to find talent to help develop the technology that protects the interests of the United States and our allies,” he said.

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