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AvengerCon IV showed how U.S. Cyber Command is building community

The hackathon, held at Dreamport in Columbia, reflected a growing spirit of collaboration around the Fort Meade-based command.

Locking down defenses at AvengerCon IV. (Photo by Nick Zajciw)
This is a guest post by Nick Zajciw, senior manager of cyber initiatives at bwtech@UMBC Research & Technology Park.

There’s an ongoing shift in the world of Fort Meade. With the announcement and creation of the National Security Agency’s Cyber Directorate this month, to recent articles highlighting actions against ISIS and Russia, a new mentality has taken hold in the U.S. Cyber Command community.

The activities earlier this month at AvengerCon IV, a two-day event focused on the promotion of hacker culture from the grassroots level of Cyber Command, represent a growing spirit of collaboration and public acknowledgement of the capabilities of the U.S. Department of Defense’s cyberspace operations.

The October 17-18 event was organized by US Army’s 780th Military Intelligence Brigade and hosted at DreamPort, a Columbia facility supporting U.S. Cyber Command and its partners.

“AvengerCon is a way for the attendees to hear from experts and to gain expanded knowledge and skills in various cyber related disciplines. But the attendees also learn from each other,” DreamPort Director Armando Seay said. “One of the major values is that the expertise comes to the attendees. This fact allows more participation at a very low cost. Imagine the cost of sending over 700 of our best and finest to Vegas? The technical nature of the lectures and hands on experiences are hard to beat.”

Activities featured a mix of technical talks and hands on demonstrations. This included technical discussions of post-quantum cryptography, applications of natural language processing, and common code patterns in exploit development.

The more operationally focused Recon Village covered use of online ads for reconnaissance, a case study of a failed Russian operation in the Netherlands, and use of Venmo for open source intelligence gathering.

Outside of discussions from seasoned members of the cyber community, hands-on activities included access to tutorials covering radio frequency, industrial control systems, election equipment, and lock picking.

Inside AvengerCon IV (Photo by Nick Zajciw)

Inside AvengerCon IV (Photo by Nick Zajciw)

When asked what’s next for DreamPort, Seay said, “It’s about where our stakeholders’ imagination wants to go next in terms of knowledge and solutions for the warfighters, but also about the next generation workforce. The MISI DreamPort can’t say enough about the stakeholder support we receive. It empowers our ability to maximize our impact on their mission and to work with young men and women in the areas surrounding today’s mission challenges, but also the challenges on the horizon.”

As the day wound down with hacker trivia, it was clear that the future of US Cyber Command benefits from those who approach their career in cyber with an intent to support one another and a focus on its mission of enabling actions in all domains, ensuring US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and denying the same to its adversaries.

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