In a field of more than 500 competitors, five Army Cyber Soldiers took first place in two categories of the SANS NetWars Tournament of Champions in Washington, D.C. in December 2017.

Maj. Josh Rykowski, executive officer for the 2nd Cyber Protection Battalion; Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Beneke of the 150th Cyber Protection Team; Sgt. 1st Class Zach McElroy, of the 5th CPT; Sgt. Matt Cundari, and Spc.. Bishoy Khalil of the CPB network evaluation and research division, represented the Army cyber competitors.

Core NetWars is a computer and network security challenge designed to test a participant's experience and skills in a safe environment.

The competitors came from across all industries and represent all of the winners from previous NetWars competitions from 2016 and 2017.

"First, and probably the most important, is that we took first place out of all of the overall SANS competitors, said Rykowski. "The fact that we were able to beat out teams from industry really highlights the skill level we had on the team.

"The second competition we won, and for which we will receive the large SANS NetWars Service trophy, was for placing first of the service teams -- Army, Air Force (1st place, 2016), Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps."

SANS is a commercial provider for cybersecurity training, certifications, assessment and ranges.

"SANS hosts an annual services tournament in which competitors competed for six hours," said Daryl Gilbertson, SANS national account manager for the military. "The Army won by a slim margin. They actually had to come from behind in the last 15 minutes to beat the Marines.

"They call it a 'capture the flag' competition. NetWars offers cybersecurity challenges in multiple domains, including cyber defense, digital forensics, incident handling, incident response, and penetration testing.

"Participants have to find the answer to each challenge; each challenge gets increasingly more difficult. The harder the challenge, the higher the point value."

"Our greatest strength was the depth of knowledge in offensive and defensive style problems and the diversity of the team," said Rykowski. "Many of us do 'capture the flag' events on our own. We get exposed to a lot of the information security-style problems."

"We all have a lot of experience," said Beneke. We've competed in the All-Army Cyberstakes and had access to the Net Wars online."

The competition helps team members hone those skills even further, and benefits the Army by given its cyber warriors an opportunity to compete with, and network with, the best cyber practitioners from the services and from industry.

"We use our strengths and learn to develop new skills based on what we are confronted with in NetWars," said Rykowski. "The NetWars win raises the Army's name -- highlighting that we face the same problems that industry works on -- and we are able to compete in a field of over 500. This highlights the fact that we have same skill sets and skill levels as industry."

"This gives the Army exposure for recruiting," he added. "It indicates that someone can do the cyber job in the Army as well. … that a person can use their skills in uniform serving their country and provide opportunities to grow.

"Competing in NetWars certainly raises the bar -- and prepares us to compete with industry and our adversaries."

For Beneke, the most challenging part of the competition was advancing to the next level.
"Once we advanced to level three, we had to 'break' the scoreboard to get to level four," he said.
Each of us had his own questions, the pace was quick -- we would help each other when we could. We were fighting to the very last minute."

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ABOUT US: United States Army Cyber Command directs and conducts integrated electronic warfare, information and cyberspace operations as authorized, or directed, to ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace and the information environment, and to deny the same to our adversaries.

Interested in the challenge of joining the Army Cyber team? Check out civilian cyber employment opportunities at USAJobs.gov, military cyber careers at https://www.goarmy.com/army-cyber.html, military and civilian cyber careers at cybercareers.gov, and the Army's cyber direct commissioning program at https://www.goarmy.com/army-cyber/cyber-direct-commissioning-program.html