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Ready! Aim! Hack!

U.S. military cadets compete in the second-annual Cyber Defense Exercise.

U.S. military cadets put their security know-how to the test last week as the National Security Agency, the Army, and the Air Force tried to hack into academy networks. It was part of the second-annual Cyber Defense Exercise, in which cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the Air Force Academy, the Naval Academy, the Coast Guard Academy, and the Naval Postgraduate School competed in a real-world environment.

A month ago, each academy received a heterogeneous collection of computers. The teams hardened the networked machines with additional security, says Lt. Col. Daniel Ragsdale, director of the IT and operations center at West Point. Hacking began Monday and ended Thursday. The winners will be announced today.

Points in the challenge are deducted with each successful hack and added, based on how well a team analyzed daily network activity. It's one of the best educational experiences the cadets could possible have, Ragsdale says. And if it's good for the cadets, it's better for national security. Says Ragsdale: "In our increasingly information-dependent army, every officer is going to have a responsibility to protect and defend information systems."

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