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Feature Story

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Check out this story from Boeing Frontiers June 2010 issue to learn more about Boeing's cyber workforce.

Cyber boot camp

A major corporate network is under attack and a strike team of the best and brightest cyber defenders huddles around a set of laptops to quickly assess the threat. An unknown adversary has disrupted the company’s online ordering system and may have compromised portions of the internal network, including supply chain data. While the full extent of the attack remains unknown, the team snaps into action to beat back the intrusion while maintaining business continuity.

Throughout the spring, scenarios just like this one were played out during a series of Collegiate Cyber Defense Competitions (CCDC) held across the country. Boeing sponsored the two-day simulations that pitted university students against network security professionals, including Boeing cyber engineers, who volunteered their time to play the part of cyber criminal.

“This competition is a great opportunity for the students to go up against a professional Red Team and experience what it is like to be attacked by an adversary while working to keep the business operating properly,” said Gerry Brunelle, a Boeing employee who volunteered as a Red Team cyber “attacker” at CCDC events in Massachusetts and Maryland.

“The competition has definitely grown more challenging every year,” Henbest said. “All parties involved in CCDC take the competition very seriously and the organizers and Red Teams continue to push the bar higher and higher.”

Jeff Henbest has firsthand understanding of the value delivered through the real-world challenges incorporated into these competitions. Boeing recruiters spotted him at the 2009 CCDC Western Regional where he was a member of the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) team. Several members of that team, including Henbest, joined Boeing soon after graduating, and he has remained connected with his alma mater by returning as a team mentor.

“Jeff’s guidance really helped us develop a game plan for how to deal with the challenges we faced during the competition,” said Jared Rathbun, a member of this year’s Cal Poly Pomona team that won the 2011 Western Regional.

Rathbun, a computer science major, went on to praise the high level of competition at the national finals in San Antonio. “They really raised the bar at nationals. All the teams were closely matched, and we were faced with a lot more disaster recovery elements,” he said. “It was a great experience.”

“The competition has definitely grown more challenging every year,” Henbest said. “All parties involved in CCDC take the competition very seriously and the organizers and Red Teams continue to push the bar higher and higher.”

Boeing’s sponsorship and employee volunteer support for the CCDC program was recently recognized at the Maryland State Department of Education Awards of Excellence. Alan Greenberg, technical director for Boeing’s Cyber and Information Solutions organization, accepted the Outstanding Post-Secondary Business Partnership Award on behalf of the company. Greenberg has played a key role in expanding the CCDC program through his work with the Community College of Baltimore County.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift toward the need for hands-on experience,” Greenberg said. “Industry is looking for workers who have trained beyond the classroom. We need people who have had their fingertips on keyboards while a network is under attack. We are constantly working to create that real-world experience through the CCDC program.”

Following every competition, the students meet with the professional volunteers and receive a debriefing on the attacks they faced. This is the most rewarding piece of the two-day event for Brunelle and his Red Team counterparts. “Interacting with the teams afterwards in a relaxed environment allows them to understand how we broke into their systems so they know how to protect against similar attacks in the future,” Brunelle said. “CCDC is a lot of fun, but ultimately we are here to help them learn and to prepare them for careers in the cyber field.”