CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa, Japan -- Marines with Defensive Cyberspace Operations - Internal Defensive Measures Company, 7th Communications Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, competed in a 12-hour international capture the flag cyber contest hosted by the Royal Thai Armed Forces remotely from Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan, Aug. 6, 2020.
Thirty teams, consisting of Thai and U.S. Forces, competed in what is known as a jeopardy-style capture the flag. There are different styles, but jeopardy is the most common and diverse that encompass both offensive and defensive categories. The Royal Thai Armed Forces provided an environment where each team can exploit vulnerabilities or analyze its various systems for certain filenames or “flags.” These challenges test the participant’s abilities in subjects such as digital forensics, cryptography, network security, and programming. Each flag found is then submitted for points, with values depending on the difficulty of each flag category.
Marines have been familiar with the concept of competition since the Marine Corps was founded in 1775. The demands of competition and the expectation for Marines to be able to fight and win have not changed, but the environment has. The Marine Corps works consistently on how to best incorporate different emerging technologies into the fight.
“We are in an increasingly technological world,” said Staff Sgt. Jared Fisk, a defensive cyberspace operations operator, with 7th Communications Battalion. From a military perspective, if you’re operating in a tactical environment and rely on network communications, there is always a possibility it may be susceptible to monitoring, modification, or destruction through known or unknown combinations of vulnerabilities and methodologies. “Those who are able to interject inside of your network and do what we are doing in this portion of the competition; following the traffic, can then disseminate their information and can even inject into ours to give us false information.” This competition emulates scenarios where the teams must employ offensive and defensive techniques within the network to discover hidden flags throughout the environment.
Marines are expected to constantly sharpen their skills and improve themselves. Defensive Cyberspace Operations - Internal Defensive Measures Company takes every opportunity to train and better III MEF’s lethality and ability to fight tonight and win in a constantly evolving technological battlespace.
“I can test [the Marines] or someone else could test them” said 1st Lt. Litthideth Phansiri, a cyberspace officer with 7th Communications Battalion. “If they enter different types of competitions, they gain a different perspective on how an adversary will think. Their aperture is going to widen and [they will] be able to understand a little bit more.”
The Marine Corps’ focus on operating in a contested information environment is a key component of the Commandant’s Planning Guidance. The Marines of 7th Communications Battalion are paving the way to ensure the organization is ready to operate with our allies and partners in this new environment. By training together, the U.S. Marine Corps and Royal Thai Armed Forces were able to exercise in a virtual shared environment with common tactics, techniques and procedures that enhance both forces abilities in defensive cyberspace operations.