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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 18, 2022

Coast Guard Academy Participates in NSA Cyber Exercise 2022

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Hunter Medley, U.S. Coast Guard Academy External Affairs

With the Coast Guard enhancing capabilities in the growing cyber realm, now more than ever it is important to protect the service against cyberattacks that can pose significant threats on infrastructure, information systems, networks, and the personal devices we rely on daily.

The National Security Agency (NSA) helps prepare future military leaders to protect our critical infrastructure by conducting the NSA Cyber Exercise (NCX), a three-day annual cyber competition that tests the offensive and defensive cybersecurity abilities of participant teams from U.S. service academies and senior military colleges as well as civilian interns from NSA’s cyber-focused development programs.

Recently more than 200 women and men participated from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Norwich University, Texas A&M University, The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, University of North Georgia, and NSA’s development programs in the three-day competition designed to develop and test cybersecurity skills. This year’s exercise was held virtually March 31 to April 2, 2022. 

The Coast Guard Academy placed third out of 15 teams given it being a quarter of the size of U.S. service academies, beating the Naval Academy. During this year’s exercise, cadets, midshipmen, and students engaged with NSA personnel to execute and evaluate cyber mission strategies and complete cyber operation scenarios in real-time. 

NCX demands that cadets exercise their training to operate effectively in teams as well as communicate and make decisions while evaluating complex technical data points. The four exercise modules simulated real-world challenges in cyber policy, cryptography, software development, and malware analysis while culminating a full attack-and-defend cyber combat event. 

The NCX is part of a year-round cyber education program that culminates with an unclassified exercise designed to reinforce the learning principles taught in the classroom. This year’s competition will feature scenarios that include challenges in forensics, cyber policy, cryptography, reverse engineering as well as the traditional cyber combat exercise.

The Coast Guard Academy Cyber Team uses the NCX to build upon knowledge and applied learning taught in academic classes and intensive almost daily training by members of the CGA Cyber Team. 

As a service that relies on partnerships, the Coast Guard continually engages in partnerships both domestically and internationally to defend our common goals, reinforce established international norms of behavior in cyberspace, and counter misbehavior of those operating outside of those norms. Exercises such as the NCX ensure that cyber leaders of today in the classroom are ready for cyber threats of tomorrow. 

“This exercise is an opportunity for our cadets who represent tomorrow’s service cyber leaders to apply what they have learned at the academy and identify areas for improvement,” said Dr. Paul Crilly, Electrical Engineering and Cyber Systems Program Chair at the Coast Guard Academy. “I am extremely proud of their dedication and performance in this year’s NCX and look forward to the amazing things they will do after graduation.” 

This year, the Coast Guard Academy will commission its first Cyber Systems graduates to meet the needs of the services cybersecurity strategy of defending cyber space, enabling operations, and protecting infrastructure. This major provides graduates with a strong computing foundation, skills, and technical ability to meet the needs of the Coast Guard cyber mission.

Cyber Systems majors at the CGA work with state-of-the-art computing hardware and software that allows for learning and research. Cadets can apply their skills from internships to capstone projects with real impact to the fleet when it comes to cybersecurity, cyber-physical systems, cyber risk management, geospatial intelligence, machine learning, secure software development, and computer and network security.  

Since 2001, NSA has hosted the team-against-team competition that develops and tests teamwork, planning, communication, and decision-making skills of the next generation of cyber talent.

More information about Coast Guard Cyber operations and missions can be found here.