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July 24, 2018

Dozens of data scientists, analysts and programmers converged July 11-12 for our 3rd annual Cyber Hackathon, an intensive two-day training and collaboration exercise that pitted 11 teams against a series of technical and fun challenges, each designed to stretch skills and teambuilding in a modern, cloud-centric environment.

This year’s Hackathon focused on artificial intelligence and machine learning in the cyber realm. Teams had to set up and secure their own cloud infrastructure using the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, then populate it with large data sets and analyze the data using automated analysis tools, such as Splunk’s analysis tools or AWS’ QuickSight, SageMaker, Athena and Amazon Machine Learning.

The Hackathon was led by GDIT’s Cyber, Cloud and Data & Analytics Communities of Interest and sponsored by Amazon Web Services and Splunk.

Technical judges awarded points for each challenge successfully completed. But even as teams crunched away at their tasks, they also had to fend off attacks from an expert “Red Team” that emulated the persistent real-world cyber threats faced by GDIT and its government customers by continuously probing and disrupting their efforts.

The better the team, the more challenging the disruptions became, culminating in a Capture the Flag exercise in which only one of the 11 teams prevailed against the Red Team attackers.

“This year’s Hackathon had three main objectives: Build community, develop AI and cyber skills and deepen alliances,” said GDIT Cyber Director Matt McFadden. Coming just months after GDIT’s April acquisition of CSRA, the Hackathon brought together participants from across the company, including legacy CSRA and GDIT units, as well as Praxis, GCI, SC3 and more. “We also brought together participants at virtually every skill level, from senior principals to interns, and with a range of expertise, including data scientists, cyber operators and analysts, developers and even business talent.”

To keep things light, technical challenges were intermingled with various “bonus” challenges, like producing and posting a music video, which helped ease the tensions of coding and analysis under intense time pressure. “Those bonus challenges end up being really valuable, said GDIT Cloud Director Neil Kronimus.  “They build camaraderie and help keep everyone’s minds fresh.”

The winning teams took home prizes from AWS, the premier sponsor, and Splunk, a supporting sponsor, including branded swag and smart speakers to drive them to bring the AI spirit home with them when it was all over.

“In the end, this is all about our customers,” said Dave Vennergrund, director of data science at GDIT. “AI and Machine Learning are disrupting the way we look at cyber and so many other data problems today. So we’re really exercising our own critical skills, the very skills and expertise we use to combat our customers’ most challenging cyber threats.”