Navy looks to turn cybersecurity into a game, literally

The Navy recently held a hackathon to bring in ideas on how to make cybersecurity run like multiplayer games.

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What if instead of looking at lines of code to protect the cybersecurity of military weapons systems, troops could look at a vast tableau of visualizations showing intrusions on ships, facilities and other assets?

That’s one option the Navy and the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) are working on to gamify the way service members see cyber intrusions into their systems.

NSIN finished up its Reality Bytes: Visualizing Cyber Operations Hackathon last week, where it heard pitches from different companies about how to best show those intrusions. The prize was $70,000 to prototype solutions.

“If you look at cyber defense right now, you have teams and you have coalition partners that are created and disband, you have adversaries and you have the attempt to defend assets in an environment that is very complex,” said Rachel Bondi, technical director of cybersecurity at Navy Information War Systems Command. “For me that was very akin to what you might see in a massive multiplayer game. I was interested in taking the backend that we’ve built, and being able to display that to people who are coming out of high school or college and into the military at a young age, who are very familiar with games and gameplay, and wanted to see if there was a way to do cyber defense with those visualizations. That was the goal.”

One finalist included the University of Hawaii, where students developed CyberCOP, a virtual reality common operating picture. The project supports cyber operations in low-bandwidth, denied and degraded areas. During attacks, the program alerts users and automatically reroutes network traffic to the best route for use.

Hawaii students also created Cyberworld, which gamified datasets across multiple industries.

Other contestants used HoloLens and Oculus virtual reality consoles to visualize data and attacks.

“What they would be looking at is real assets that the Navy has and how we would defend them in a in a joint security environment for cyber operations,” Bondi said. “Some of the visuals that people came up with were actual digital twins of ships. They had different several different solutions for visualizing even signals within the air for communications, the assets themselves, visualizations of when an attack was occurring, how to identify that and pull out those different responses, which would normally be seen as lines of code or thousands of logs sitting at a desktop. It really brought it to life.”

The hope is that these programs can lower the barrier to entry for cybersecurity professionals. Anyone who is used to playing games and is familiar with the set up can strap into the virtual reality sets and defend Navy assets.

Kedar Pavgi, program manager of the hacks program at NSIN, said the next steps for the companies and student teams would be developing prototypes.

Businesses need to identify hurdles in order to build out their programs. Student groups will get aid from NSIN to help develop their solution in an academic setting.

“Our goal is that we can find opportunities, whether it’s the test and evaluation space or specific contracting opportunities, or something that is this dual use in the commercial world, where they will be able to succeed, develop the solution, and ultimately scale it in a way that is usable throughout the rest of the department,” Pavgi said.

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