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SANS Institute's NetWar challenge takes on the US military

“Between one and three times per month we run a NetWars tournament at a military base. It has been used by several branches of the US military to identify skills and help their folks fine-tune their skills”, Skoudis told Infosecurity.

For the NetWars challenge, participants compete in a mock environment to test their defensive, analysis, and offensive information security skills, fighting off intruders while trying to take over other target systems and networks.

Digital forensics, packet and malware analysis, vulnerability testing, and penetration testing are just some of the information security skill sets participants are required to demonstrate along the way, SANS explained.

Yori Kvitchko, senior technical analyst at SANS, told Infosecurity that the military has a “unique problem in the sense that they have this gigantic pool of [cybersecurity] candidates.” The military has to determine which of the candidates are qualified and what their area of specialty is, he noted.

“What we have given them with NetWars is much more visibility, not just in book learning skills…but in hands-on skills”, Kvitchko explained.

The SANS Institute also provides the NetWars challenge at its Network Security conference. The next one is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas, Nev., Sept 17-26.

The NetWars challenge, one of the competitions sponsored by the public-private US Cyber Challenge Coalition, offers two options for participants to compete: tournament and continuous.

The NetWars tournament is a six-hour challenge conducted over two days at the SANS national conference. NetWars continuous, with much more complex scenarios and target infrastructures, allows each participant to build his or her skills over a four-month period. Both versions of NetWars include five levels of difficulty, allowing people of various skill sets to learn and develop.

“When we run NetWars at the conferences, we get a bunch of different people that come into it. It is neat to see their mindsets, their different approaches, and how they play the game”, commented Skoudis.

The winner of the NetWars at the SANS conference gets an iPad and the runner-up gets a “wonderful shirt”, he added.

After completing the NetWars challenge, participants receive a score card that assesses them on skills based on a number of categories, including difficulty level and information security topics covered. “It tells you what you are good at, it tells you what maybe you are not good at, and it tells you what you didn’t get”, said Kvitchko. The score card provides feedback that can guide future training and study, he added.