2021 President’s Cup to Find Top Federal Cyber Talent
August 31, 2021 • Article
August 31, 2021—The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) yesterday opened registration for the 2021 President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition. The SEI-supported contest recognizes talented cybersecurity professionals in the federal workforce. Eligible federal civilians and military personnel are invited to register for the competition. Teams can register until September 20, and individuals until October 4. The first qualifying round begins September 13 for teams and September 27 for individuals.
Established in response to Executive Order 13870, the President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition aims to identify, challenge, and reward the United States government’s best cybersecurity practitioners and teams across offensive and defensive cybersecurity disciplines. The SEI has helped CISA bring unique challenge content together on an innovative platform to fulfill the requirements of the executive order.
The President’s Cup consists of three rounds of increasing difficulty. Qualifying rounds 1 and 2, held asynchronously online, lead to the final round of the competition. This year, conditions permitting, the final round will be held live and in person at the CISA facility in Arlington, Virginia, in early December. The last day of the team track is livestreamed on YouTube. The competition culminates in the team, individual track A (incident response and forensics), and individual track B (exploitation and vulnerability assessment) winners being recognized in an award ceremony that identifies them as the U.S. government’s top cyber talent.
The SEI has supported the President’s Cup since its first running in 2019, for which the institute created the program plan, challenges, and competition infrastructure. For the 2020 President’s Cup, the SEI made new team and individual challenges, added partial credit for challenge solutions, and provided support for the 1,470 individual competitors and 249 teams. This year, the SEI has again developed an all-new set of challenges and will provide 24/7 support to competitors during the competition. SEI engineers also improved the competition platform to make the challenge development process more efficient.
“We are committed to developing the best challenges we can for the President’s Cup,” said Jarrett Booz, the SEI’s technical lead for the competition’s development. “Each year we learn things that improve the experience for the competitors as well as increase our development efficiency. It’s crucial to create the highest quality challenges, as they are later provided as open source materials for the community to learn from.”
SEI developers build President’s Cup challenges around selected mission-critical work roles and tasks from the NICE Workforce Framework for Cybersecurity (NICE Framework). By identifying which knowledge and skills a particular challenge targets, competitors can easily focus on challenges that address their strengths. Using the NICE Framework also focuses these assessments on critical, in-use skills that are important in identifying the best cyber talent and represent federal cyber work overall.
The SEI develops and hosts President’s Cup challenges with SEI open source software. Cybersecurity engineers use TopoMojo to build the virtual environments for each challenge. This platform accelerates challenge development by using virtual machine templates and unique features that allow dynamic answer generation. Developers then use the Gameboard application to organize challenges into rounds, assign point values, and track scores on leaderboards. The apps allow users to interact with their challenge’s isolated virtual environment via their web browser without any special software or tools.
Anyone can use these open source apps to create their own cyber competition by deploying the Foundry Appliance. This appliance combines the above applications into a ready-to-use virtual machine.
“The SEI has been integral to not only the President’s Cup success in challenging the U.S. government’s top cybersecurity practitioners,” said Michael Harpin, the CISA federal lead for the President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition, “but also in making the content available to the community to assist in addressing the cybersecurity workforce gap.”