Voice of Victory first in Armed Forces Week Joint Cyber Competition
The National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland, and U.S. Cyber Command hosted the 2015 Armed Forces Week Joint Cyber Competition from May 12 to May 13 with most of the teams competing remotely from their home stations.
After 23 hours of intense problem-solving one Army signal battalion based in Fort Gordon stood out from the rest.
The 442nd Signal Battalion, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade, known as the Voice of Victory team, competed against 19 other teams representing the United States Navy, Air Force, and the Marine Corps at Fort Gordon to earn first place in the competition.
“This is a huge honor to even compete with the professionals that were out there this year, let alone win,” said Capt. Nate Burgess, a division chief with the 442nd Signal Battalion’s Leader College of Network Operations. “I was shocked and humbled when my folks asked me to assemble and lead the team, so I really didn’t want to let them down.”
“I think for the team it’s tremendous because it really put the Army’s capability to train cyber professionals on the map,” he explained. “The United States Army can train and prepare top notch officers, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers for the cyberspace mission set. Our win this year proves that.”
During the competition, teams tackled problems in digital forensics, cryptography, reverse-engineering, packet capture, network exploitation, and cyber trivia.
In one of the cyber trivia questions, a secret key was embedded in a song file.
“The challenge was to find some sort of secret hidden message placed inside the song,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Phillip Smith, a Voice of Victory team member. “The importance of this from a security perspective is having the understanding that our adversaries will try any means necessary to hide data in an otherwise innocuous package. Our challenge was to find it.”
Burgess, who formed the winning team, felt the most interesting part of the competition was the nature of the challenges.
“They were very well designed and executed from start to finish,” he said. “They demanded a deep knowledge and technical understanding and they were progressive. The challenges were puzzles within puzzles, which is a real reward for most folks who are passionate about this stuff. We just like to solve really tough problems.”
When it came to forming the team, Voice for Victory, there was no strong holding applied. “I got the competitor’s handbook from the Joint Cyber Competition staff and asked my folks who wanted to compete,” Burgess explained. “The volunteers suggested a few talented individuals from around our organization and I put the ‘hard sell’ on a few that I knew. Outside of that I aligned folks into functional cells that aligned their talents with the competition categories. That seems to have paid dividends. I never put any pressure on anyone though. Like I said before, we didn’t dream that we were going to win. We were just in it to have fun and learn.”
“Since we had a wellbalanced and diverse team, we actually did well in most of the categories, but especially in network exploitation, packet analysis, and forensics,” Burgess said. “I believe the NSA team came in second place by 200 points, which is actually a fairly wide margin.”
Burgess gives credit where it’s due. “I only assembled and aligned the team and helped crack one or two challenges,” he said. “Chief Warrant Officer 3 Phil Smith from my Defensive Cyber Operations Branch is a total rock star. He helped break a lot of the challenges and keep people from going down rabbit holes. Although our team was made up largely of Signal Corps personnel we had four Cyber officers on our team from the Cyber schoolhouse. Having the Cyber officers on board really came in handy.”
The Voice of Victory’s name is to be inscribed on the first place trophy. In addition, the Military Cyber Professionals Association plans to award each member of the team with a commemorative medal to honor the first place victory.