Five teams face off in APS cyber war games next week

By Stephen Easton

September 14, 2017

Game on. Five teams of federal public servants from 10 agencies will face off in a series of cyber war games next week, hosted by the Department of Human Services.

DHS, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the Australian Taxation Office are all fielding teams, as The Mandarin reported in April, alongside two mixed teams (which could surely come up with better names than “Joint Team 1” and “Joint Team 2” by next week).

Each has two match-ups over the week, one as attacker and one as defender, starting at 9am sharp. It’s expected to be a yearly tournament, so this year it’s called Operation First Wave 2017, and when it’s all over one team will emerge as the winner.

On Monday, DIBP will try to break through the defences of the second mixed team — let’s call them JT2 — which has been pulled together from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Digital Transformation Agency, the Department of Defence and Australia’s Computer Emergency Response Team, with an extra group from the Tax Office.

JT1 is drawn from the Australian Criminal Investigation Commission, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Health. It will attack the DHS team on Tuesday.

On Wednesday DHS will attack the ATO, which gets a chance to go on the offense on Thursday, against JT1. The final battle will see Immigration and Border Protection defend against JT2.

Yesterday the teams sent representatives to learn the ropes at the DHS Cyber Range, a freshly upgraded facility based around a Lego city that will be used for the battles. The department’s chief information security officer Narelle Devine is pleased to see other agencies get involved. She says cyber attacks are becoming as big a risk as major natural disasters.

“To best protect the information and security of the Australian community, it’s important we understand how cunning cyber criminals operate by giving teams the opportunity to attack as well as defend,” Devine said.

“Cyber criminals won’t be knocking at the front door, so our defenders need to have the skills and experience to be able to find them first.”

Seven expert adjudicators will oversee the competition, which will involve “realistic scenarios” according to one of the judges, retired US Navy Admiral Patrick Walsh, a former commander of the Pacific Fleet who now works for information security firm FireEye.

“Having some of the best and brightest cyber minds from across government and industry together in the same room will generate new ideas and approaches that will only strengthen Australia’s cyber defence capability,” Walsh said.

The adjudicators won’t just be looking at technical skills; teams will also be scored on their team work, communication, planning, critical thinking and creativity.

Walsh is joined on the judging panel by:

  • Sandra Ragg, an assistant secretary from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet who works under the Prime Minister’s special cyber adviser Alastair MacGibbon;
  • Anthony Kitzelmann, who is in charge of keeping MyHealth records safe as the chief information security officer at the Australian Digital Health Agency and general manager of its Cyber Security Centre;
  • Commodore Jeffrey Goedecke, from the chief information officer’s group in the Department of Defence;
  • Dr Jill Slay, director of Cyber Resilience with the Australian Computer Society;
  • Eshan Dissanayake from Wesfarmers, who is in charge of IT security for Coles supermarkets; and
  • James Turner, who runs CISO Lens, a forum for chief information security officers.
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