WASHINGTON (March 17, 2017) A team comprised of U.S. Naval War College (NWC) students present to a panel of judges at the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge competition held over three days at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C. The team won the competition after beating out 48 college teams from 32 schools from around the world. (Courtesy photo from Atlantic Council)

By Daniel L. Kuester, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
March 20, 2017

WASHINGTON – A team of students from U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island placed first in the annual Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge competition held over three days at American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.

The contest pitted 48 college teams from 32 schools from around the world, and judged their responses to a scenario where a major cyberattack has occurred and how the nation should react.

The NWC team was coached by Chris Demchak, the Rear Adm. Grace M. Hopper chair of cybersecurity at NWC, and Capt. Fred Turner, military professor of Joint Military Operations at NWC.

“Their enthusiasm and willingness to take on what was a new challenge to most of the team produced this exceptional outcome,” said Demchak, who is also director for NWC's Center for Cyber Conflict Studies, which sponsored the team.
For the competition, each team was tasked with producing a written policy brief to be given to their fictional boss, the special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator.

The team also was required to give a 10-minute oral presentation outlining four possible policy options – and recommending one of the options – in response to the ongoing cybersecurity incident.

NWC’s team was led by Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fahy, who said the win was surprising considering he and his teammates are not all cyber experts, and that may have helped the group.

“This is a forcing function to learn about this topic,” said Fahy. “I know that I didn’t know anything about this subject and I was forced to learn quickly about this. Our backgrounds are diverse, and we don’t all have a background in cyber. This allowed us to approach the problem in a different way.”

Other members of the team were Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Vanak, and Majors Benjamin Ramsey and Josh Burger, both Air Force.

“This directly helps me with my research,” said Ramsey, the only member who does have a background in cyber operations. “My next job will be a cyber squadron so I will deal more with the international norms and implications of cyber operations. This will be important for my very next job.”

Even if they hadn’t won, the experience was important.

“There is value in thinking about these sorts of problems as part of our war college education,” said Burger. “I don’t think we would have talked about many of these complex issues if we hadn’t been part of this competition. One of the hottest topics in security is cyber and this has been a valuable independent study in this area.”

Vanak said this competition puts his education in a broader perspective.

“This reinforces the policy and international relations issues we have been studying and puts it into a real-world scenario,” he said. “It really reminds me of some of our classroom exercises.”

Demchak added that the group had a full learning experience.

“They engaged in a 360 degree learning experience from a voluntary crash course on the topic, bringing together study, discussion and expert guidance; to analysis and recompiling of data to create systemic policy options in ever smaller increments of preparation time; to – finally – a tight, professional delivery of options and recommendations to senior evaluators for decision making,” she said.

The competition is sponsored by the Atlantic Council, a Washington D.C.-based think tank that promotes constructive leadership and engagement in international affairs.

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