Inside a convention centre in Toowoomba, more than 250 people bunkered down in a "capture the flag" competition at the ADF’s annual Joint Cyber Skills Challenge on November 6-7.
At the event, hosted by Army’s 7th Signal Regiment and Information Warfare Division – Joint Capabilities Group, tables of six to eight people, fixated on screens with faces illuminated by flashy keyboards, hunted down hidden messages, snippets of code and progressed through technical challenges designed to test their problem-solving skills in a team environment.
Head Information Warfare, Major General Marcus Thompson, said the event was getting bigger each year.
“Cyber conventions and hackathons are growing in popularity and there’s clearly a strong appetite for an ADF-hosted event, which gives participants the chance to go head-to-head with ADO’s best cyber operators,” Major General Thompson said .
The event attracted 45 diverse and highly skilled teams, with competitors drawn from Australian Defence Organisation (ADO), Australian Signals Directorate, Australian Cyber Security Centre, Department of Human Services, Defence Science and Technology, cross-government agencies, Five Eyes militaries and industry.
Corporal Zachary Gibson, who competed in the event with Army’s 138 Signal Squadron, said the challenge was of great benefit to cyber operators.
"Not only as a learning exercise but also as a triservice/industry networking opportunity,” Corporal Gibson said .
At the close of the two-day competition, Army’s 7th Signal Regiment took out both first and second place, with New Zealand Defence Force finishing third.
Director Joint Cyber - Information Warfare Division, Colonel Robert Watson, said the collaboration of ADF and external organisations continued to build a strong network throughout Australia’s cyber community.
“This event has demonstrated that both government and industry partners support our ADF mission," Colonel Watson said.
“We’ve found a network of support in the community we didn’t know existed before this event, and now we’re looking at how to retain that and build on it for next year.”
The ADF partnered with Fifth Domain Cyber to develop the cloud-hosted platform for the challenge, with input from psychologists in Joint Health Command providing advice on how to incorporate human interaction.
The long-term vision is to establish ADF cyber as a sport to provide a more inclusive option for cyber operators and enthusiasts, who thrive in a competitive environment.