The Citadel began a three-day competition on April 8 hosted by the National Security Agency that pits the country's military colleges and service academies against each other in intense cyber security simulations.
The NSA's National Cyber Exercise allows future service members and cadets to experience real-life examples of digital problems the military faces. This marks the first year The Citadel has been invited to compete for the title and trophy.
At least 36 cadets are participating in the event. It involves exercises on forensics, cyber policy, cryptography and reverse engineering, and ends with a real-world defense challenge where they have to detect and protect a network system from hackers.
The events take place over the course of three days and range anywhere from eight to 12 hours in length.
"Through NCX, NSA helps to educate, train and test the cyber skills of U.S. service academy cadets and midshipmen, as well as teams from the senior military colleges and select NSA employees," Diane Janosek, commandant of NSA's National Cryptologic School, said in a statement.
"NSA has an incentive to ensure the nation has a competent cyber-smart workforce," she added.
In recent years, the U.S. military and the federal government have put more emphasis on training young service members to combat increasing cyber threats from terrorists and other countries.
For example, the Department of Defense announced that as recently as July indictments were issued against two malicious cyber actors associated with with the Chinese Ministry of State Security for stealing terabytes of data, including data related to COVID-19 vaccination research.
Since 2001, the NSA has hosted the team-against-team competition that tests teamwork, planning, communication and decision-making skills.
Last year's NCX competition was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the event is typically held in person, the 2021 competition is taking place virtually with team's competing from their own campus.
Schools participating in this year's exercise include the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Norwich University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech, University of North Georgia and The Citadel.
Shankar Banik, professor of cyber and computer sciences, said activities like NCX will help prepare these students for careers in the real world.
"These exercises reinforce the learning they're getting in the classroom," he said. "When they go to the real world, they're going to be applying that. These challenges exist in the military, the private sector and, well, everywhere."
The exercise will end April 10.