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News | March 14, 2018

The Inaugural NSA Cyber Exercise, former Cyber Defense Exercise, brings new cyber competition to U.S. Service Academy Cadets and Midshipmen

NSA Cyber Exercise - Title and Logo with artistic rendering of earth from space with a glowing web above it

Since 2001, NSA has tested the defensive skills of cadets and midshipmen of the U.S. Service Academies in the Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX). To stay ahead of ever-evolving cyber threats, NSA has evolved the program to test the cadets and midshipmen in near full-spectrum cyber operations. Teams from the five U.S. Service Academies will compete head-to-head in what is now called the NSA Cyber Exercise (NCX).

This year, NCX will take place 19-21 March 2018 at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, overlapping with the Joint Service Academy Cybersecurity (JSAC) Summit. JSAC is a federation of common interests to strengthen the tie between industry and the U.S. Government to better secure the Internet, share best practices, and foster stakeholder partnerships. Over 300 leading professionals meet at the JSAC Summit at one of the Academies every year.

Those who are familiar with the former CDX will notice a number of changes. Most notable, students from the Service academies are no longer battling against a Red Cell manned by NSA professionals; in fact, the "Cell" concept has been thrown out the window. Now, each Service Academy can build a maximum of three teams - each composed of four cadets or midshipmen - that will be responsible for both Red and Blue Team operations during each exercise or activity.

Personnel from NSA and U.S. Cyber Command will be onsite as mentors for the final, real-world scenario activity.

The teams will be challenged in four events:

  1. Legal & Policy Tabletop Exercise (TTX): This exercise explores the differences between securing, protecting, and defending U.S. critical infrastructure and how Active, Reserve, and Guard cyber forces can best support the mission of Defending the Nation.
  2. Red vs. Blue Tabletop Activity: This tabletop simulation uses game boards and cards to give students the opportunity to plan, execute, and evaluate cyber mission strategies. Each round, teams are assigned roles of 'Red' or 'Blue', attempting to exploit or harden their networks, respectively.
  3. Blue Edge: Concord Dawn: Teams track adversarial coordinates and securely relay such intelligence to their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by defending their space mission kits - Satellite Communication. Also, teams must prevent observation of their UAVs by enemy intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance satellites as well as react to adversarial techniques.
  4. NCX LIVE FIRE: Each team acts as a newly deployed Cyber Mission Team (CMT) tasked with identifying local adversarial cyber cells that have been actively attacking U.S. infrastructure. Due to their location, the CMT shares internet space with the adversarial cells, creating constant turf war and requiring the CMT to defend itself while supporting their ongoing warfare activities.

To learn more about the NSA Cyber Exercise, visit the NCX section of