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Press Release | April 23, 2012

Air Force Wins NSA's 12th Annual Test of Cyber Defense

The U.S. Air Force Academy won this year's Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX), gaining its third trophy since the annual competition began in 2001.

The cybersecurity skills and ingenuity of students from the U.S. service academies, the Air Force Institute of Technology, and the Royal Military College of Canada were put to the test by the National Security Agency's top information assurance professionals. NSA's Information Assurance Directorate sponsors the annual event, often characterized as the Superbowl for future cyber defenders.

Photo of two 2012 CDX participants concentrating behind a computer monitor.

"CDX is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for some of the finest students in the nation to show off their cyber skills to NSA's leading practitioners," said Tony Sager, Chief Operating Officer in the Information Assurance Directorate. "Cybersecurity is a team sport. The nation needs the best and brightest to help us outthink and defeat our adversaries' new ideas."

Network specialists who help to secure the U.S. government's most sensitive communication systems challenged the ability of service academy teams to defend computer networks that the students designed, built, and configured at their respective schools. The entire four-day exercise was conducted on virtual private networks. Working at Lockheed Martin's facility in Hanover, Md., another group of specialists graded each team's ability to effectively maintain network services while detecting, responding to, and recovering from security intrusions or compromises.

Teams from the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Air Force Institute of Technology, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy competed this year. NSA announced the winner on Friday, April 20.

Despite the intense competition, both students and professionals said everyone had a great experience.

"The exercise is as close to a real-world environment as you can get in a training scenario," said a Defense Department researcher who was on the West Point team that won the 2009 CDX Trophy. As a cadet, he said, the exercise had given him a "good understanding of the magnitude of the fight - and just how difficult it is to protect cyber space."

CDX Trophy Winners Over the Years

Date CDX Winner
2001 U.S. Military Academy (USMA)
2002 USMA
2003 U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA)
2004 U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA)
2005 U.S. Naval Academy (USNA)
2006 USAFA
2007 USMA
2008 USMA
2009 USMA
2010 USNA
2011 USMA
2012 USAFA

More information about NSA and previous Cyber Defense Exercises is available online at