In response to the escalating demand for adept cybersecurity professionals in the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is intensifying its efforts to foster a well-equipped energy cybersecurity workforce through a hands-on operational technology cybersecurity competition with real world challenges. The DOE is inviting teams of college and university students to participate in an in-person ninth edition of its CyberForce Competition®, sponsored by DOE’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) and led by DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, on November 4.
The event will enhance cyber operational technology education, allowing students an unmatched opportunity to take lessons learned in the classroom or lab and to apply them in a high-stakes scenario built to simulate a workplace experience. The competition also increases awareness of the connection between critical infrastructure and cybersecurity, and the opportunities that exist to apply a computer science or cybersecurity education to the protection of the systems that ensure the economic and national security of the United States.
CyberForce is a unique educational opportunity as it engages students in realistic scenarios that test their practical skills in real time. Each year, a scenario is constructed for the competition, to include constraints and anomalies representative of the challenges corporate or government cyber defenders face on the job.
This year, the scenario will involve defense of distributed energy resources, which are typically defined as energy technologies that can be deployed where they are needed – at the point of energy generation, storage, or consumption. Examples include solar arrays, electric vehicle chargers, and energy storage systems. The 2023 scenario will require participating teams to take considerations such as budget limitations and weather load balancing into account.
In addition to technical skill building, students are tasked with soft skill development exercises to include writing security documentation and a speaking engagement with senior leadership to provide a realistic view of how working professionals are required to operate.
“Distributed energy resources are a crucial part of our transition to a clean energy economy,” said Puesh Kumar, Director of CESER. “With this transition, we have a tremendous opportunity to develop a strong workforce that will keep our next generation energy systems cyber secure. This year’s CyberForce Competition provides both the inspiration and hands-on experience to help develop the energy workforce of the future."
"This competition provides so many opportunities for students to get an idea of the next step into what their careers look like,” said Amanda Theel, Argonne’s Group Leader of Workforce Development. “With so many unknowns and twists and turns, it really is a fun day.” Theel has helped lead DOE’s CyberForce Program since its inception in 2016.
The competition emphasizes the dual importance of system security and usability. Participants will be tasked with securing the systems without impeding the normal work operations of the users, fostering a balance between security and functionality. This event is not only an opportunity to sharpen skills but a call to action in the face of a growing need for cybersecurity professionals.
In recent years, the CyberForce® Program has expanded to offer targeted training through the "Conquer the Hill" virtual competitions for individuals and career development opportunities at career fairs. Additionally, the Webinar Series, launched in 2021, facilitates ongoing engagement with industry and academia, offering insights into current cybersecurity trends and discussions.
To learn more about DOE’s CyberForce Program, visit CyberForce Competition® – Department of Energy's CyberForce® Program.