MIKEL Wins Hack the Machine!

October 19, 2020 | Categories: Blog

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) teamed up with partners from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), along with members of the technology industry such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Spark Cognition, Spigit and many others, to present Hack the Machine, a hands on digital experience to inspire top minds throughout industry and academia to bring innovation and ideas to the world of cybersecurity in the maritime domain.

“The biggest cyber threat that we have is our ability to generate capabilities, algorithms and code at a pace that matches organizations’, both nation states and others, ability to innovate attacks,” said Director of the NPS Center for Cyber Warfare and founder of Hack the Machine, Cmdr. Zac Staples. “If we build defenses and offenses in the same industrial model that we build ships and airplanes, which is a seven, eight, sometimes a 10-year development cycle, then we will lose the innovation battle every time. The way you get ahead is you get people excited to work on national security problems and that is what Hack the Machine does.”

Dubbed as the “Blue Angels for geeks,” Hack the Machine kicked off a several day virtual event.

“This event saw members of government, academia, entrepreneurs, industry and innovators working together to think about maritime security in a very unique way,” said Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence, Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, as part of her closing remarks for past events.

Maritime cybersecurity is about is forging new paths for securing our operational technologies, Tighe noted in her remarks, all of which are critical to not only ships, aircraft and submarines, but also to the core functionality of the Navy itself.

“Almost everything I saw today from all of the teams throughout the event had direct applicability to helping the Navy accomplish its mission,” she added.

The event featured the perspectives from Navy, academic and industry cybersecurity experts during a variety of presentations offered to the diverse group of participants.

The event was broken up into a giant Capture the Flag event spread over each day over several days. Capture the flag in summary is a list of problems that teams have to solve for points. Each challenge is worth a specific amount based on the difficulty. The team with the most solved challenges (points) wins.

Miles Ercolani a civilian contractor from Mikel Inc. competed on team “Gone Phishing” a collaborative group comprised from different warfare centers including: NUWC, the Pentagon, and NSWC PHD. Gone Phishing would then go off to win the event!

Participants were given access to “Maritime Capture the Flag,” and saw groups utilizing the world’s first maritime electronic test bed for conducting cybersecurity research.

“One aspect of Hack the Machine that is a huge interest to me, is that it provides a system that is realistic enough to be an example of what it is like to hack into a cyber-physical system, and for that matter, what it would be like to defend one,” said Principal Research Scientist at MIT CSAIL, Howard Shrobe.

The categories of the challenges were Web, Forensics, Reverse Engineering, Crypto, and Miscellaneous shown below

“This represents a big opportunity to work with the operational side of this community,” he continued. “Often in scenarios like these, the operator knows what the problem is but not necessarily the solution. Having that real-world input is deeply beneficial to figuring out what the solutions look like, and to then bring those solutions into reality.”

Hack the Machine, Virtual represents the fifth iteration of the event, with previous events held in Austin, Texas, San Francisco, Boston, and New York. The Navy has hosted these events at technological hubs, instead of military bases, in an effort to attract an emerging group of highly-skilled technology and software experts. According to Staples, the team has been successful.