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Inaugural Government Cyber War Games foster greater collaboration within Australian government cybersecurity community

Image source: Twitter feed of DHS Chief Information Security Officer, Narelle Devine

The Department of Human Services has taken out the inaugural Government Cyber War Games in an event that is expected to deliver lasting benefits for information security across government. The games were running from 18–22 September, with teams set to compete in a series of unique challenges to test and demonstrate their capabilities in the cyber world.

The intensive five-day ‘Operation First Wave’ competition saw some of the government’s best cyber security minds going head-to-head in a landmark event for Australian cybersecurity. 

Five teams, representing 10 agencies, took part in a round-robin style tournament, taking turns attacking and defending a specially designed ‘cyber range’ linked to a working replica Lego city. 

The five teams which took part in the inaugural event consisted of three teams represented by members from three government agencies – the Department of Human Services (DHS), Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

The remaining two teams were made up of cybersecurity staff representing multiple agencies: Australian Criminal Investigation Commission, Australian Federal Police and Department of Health (Joint team 1) and Attorney-General’s Department Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Digital Transformation Agency, Department of Defence and an additional contingent from the ATO. (Joint team 2).

As well as achieving success in attacking or defending the city, a panel of adjudicators scored teams against a range of criteria including team work, communication, planning, critical thinking and creativity. 

Competition was extremely tight with the highly-organised outfits from Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) both close to taking the lead during the final day.

Human Services may have taken top honours but the real victory was the new comradery developed between the departments—a vital ingredient in building a strong cyber capability. 

Department of Human Services Chief Information Security Officer Narelle Devine said the games were a crucial initiative for government to ensure agencies are thoroughly prepared for a real cyberattack.

“There would be major ramifications for individuals and the country should our systems be breached,” Ms. Devine said.

“As the custodian of personal data on almost every Australian, through Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support, the department takes security of this information extremely seriously.

“The level of engagement and collaboration the games have fostered within the government cyber security community is extremely encouraging.

“The department’s training facility is world class and I look forward to hosting more events and training exercises like this, ensuring our cyber defenders are at the top of their game.”

Over the course of the week, more than 220 spectators – including government, corporate and school groups from primary through to University – attended the games coming away with new relationships, ideas and an insight into future career opportunities.

How it happened

Attackers took to the course with a series of objectives to achieve, such as derailing the Lego train or stopping the model wind turbines, while the defenders tried to spot and prevent the attacks.

Ms. Devine said one of the key objectives of the games was to get teams to understand how cyber criminals work by pushing them to think outside the box with their attacks. 

"The lead changed hands several times throughout the week with ATO taking charge early on, only to be chased down by DHS, who just managed to edge out DIBP at the very end," Ms. Devine said.

"The ATO team initially set the course record with the speed with which they achieved some of their objectives, while the DIBP and AFP put up the sternest defence, holding out their opponents until the final minutes of the contest. The CERT-led mixed team also showed incredible skill attacking the course. Both multi-agency teams did extremely well, especially given they had never worked together before, and provided a strong challenge in every event."

"The feedback we have had from all the teams and spectators has been extremely positive, and the knowledge shared and inter-agency relationships formed will have ongoing benefits." Featured image via Narelle Devine’s Twitter page

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