SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Cyber X-Games 2018 brought 72 participants from various U. S. Army Reserve cyber and network defense units, Air Force cyber and network operations centers (squadrons), ROTC Cadets and civilian network and cyber professionals from government contractor entities June 9-18 to the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
Coordinated through the partnership between the Army Reserve Cyber Operations Group (ARCOG), 335th Signal Command (Theater) and UTSA, this year's games focused on the protection of critical network infrastructures in the areas of finance, public utilities and health care.
Held every year as a culminating training exercise for ARCOG Soldiers, the purpose for Cyber X-Games is to foster bringing individuals together for practice using tactics, techniques, procedures and technology as a team in real world training exercises against and adversary, said Lt. Col. Michael Lewis, operations officer for the ARCOG.
Before the exercise began, there were four days of cyber specific training focusing on tools and protocols used in preparation for the actual exercise. Built into pre-game training were informational sessions where technology leaders were brought in to speak and hold discussions with the competitors.
"What we as coordinators and collaborators try to [do] is take real world cyber related events and leverage the information from those events into an exercise," Lewis said.
The X-Games is intended to be a precursor on a tactical platform for the ARCOG's other partnership event the Cyber Endeavor — a symposium designed to bring thought leaders together from military, government and industry and discuss cyber related issues at a strategic level, he said.
Last year's X-Games was designed to look out how cyber could be used in special operations missions. A scenario was planned for the teams to perform a hostage rescue. This year the teams are focusing on defensive operations to protect vulnerabilities in critical network infrastructures.
"The X-Games is open to military, government, industry, and academia with the purpose of also affording the opportunity to work in a joint environment. Although the scenarios are set up in a military format, the key is to create a learning platform that is fun for the competitors," said Lewis.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher Manuel, special projects officer for the ARCOG, added that with the purpose of training and strategy, the Cyber Endeavor conference looks at critical topics facing the Nation to bring awareness to those issues so that discussions and problem solving can begin.
"Essentially what the themes and topics at Cyber Endeavor do is shape what planning will be for the Cyber X-Games," Manuel said.
The X-Games started each morning with a brief of the days agenda with each day ending late in the afternoon. In the afternoon sessions, each team has to give a brief to the event leaders and facilitators on the progress made that day. During the briefs the teams are evaluated and given feed back based on what is presented.
Army Reservist, 1st. Lt. Michael Stoner, currently assigned to the ARCOG's Western Cyber Protection Center (WCPC), competed on a team representing the WCPC and South West Cyber Protection Center. His team also became one of the top three finishers in the competition.
"There a lot of things I learned at the Cyber X-Games," said Stoner. "The biggest thing I learned was communication among the team. Working with the Air Force, other Army Reserve units, and civilian cyber professionals made it a benefit collaborating together with the intent to learn how to operate and problem solve in an environment like the one that was presented."
One of the lead coordinators who assisted Lewis and Manuel with Cyber X-Games and Endeavor was Dr. Glenn Dietrich, professor of information systems and cyber security for UTSA.
Dietrich's role was to help with logistics and ensure the necessary facilities and tools were available for the coordinators and participants for the two events.
Speaking to this year's X-Games, Dietrich mentioned how the training exercises helped the troops gain experience working to protect different sectors of critical infrastructure, specifically the area involving industrial control systems (ICS).
In line with Dietrich's mention on ICS, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dana Timmons, currently assigned to the 837th Cyber Operations Squadron, and part of the top finishing team of Cyber X-Games 2018, expressed that the introduction to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) was not a concept he expected to encounter at the X-Games.
ICS and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), are typically used in the public utilities and service sectors and if left vulnerable can cause considerable harm to everyday life as detailed at a more specific level in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Technology Administration, Department of Commerce) publication titled - Guide to Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Industrial Control Systems Security.
"SCADA is a big problem set in the cyber forum now and the fact that it was addressed at the X-Games to bring awareness is significant," Timmons said.
As Timmons prepared to depart with his team at the conclusion of the competition, he noted that because of how the exercises were structured, the competition did a good job of driving the competitors, but the best part was seeing the different services and civilian cyber professionals working together to resolve the issues presented.