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July 7, 2017

GDIT is dedicated to offering our colleagues hands-on training opportunities to grow their knowledge and skills while collaborating with others across our organization. In June, the GDIT Cyber Institute hosted GDIT’s second Hackathon featuring two days of collaborative computing and training.

The winners: Team Hack4Good.
Pictured l to r: Perry Ketter,
Chris Tickel, Patrick Arnold,
Team Captain Shyam Namavaram
and Chris Zimmerman.

Participants were divided into seven teams, with five teams located in our Falls Church, VA, headquarters and two teams located at CSRA’s Integrated Technology Center (ITC) in Bossier City, LA.

For this event, our heads were in the cloud—the hyper-converged cloud that is—and we dug deep into DevSecOps while challenging the teams with cybersecurity exploits along the way.

Challenge 1: Infrastructure

The Hackathon kicked off with infrastructure challenges using Nutanix AcropolisTM as our platform. Nutanix uses a hybrid delivery model to leverage public cloud advantages while retaining the security and control of private datacenters. We introduced the teams to Nutanix REST APIs and developer tools that could be used to exercise the APIs, view their results, and implement a sequence of API calls in a script to automate workflows.

Most of our participants had not used Nutanix before. To help the participants prepare, Nutanix provided two pre-training sessions and other learning materials. We gave advance access to the environment so participants could gain experience before the event.

Challenge 2: DevSecOps

Communication and collaboration help us deliver faster. To expose teams to DevOps concepts and the security capabilities of Sonatype’s Nexus Lifecycle products, teams were asked to update a legacy application while being mindful that concerns existed over potential security vulnerabilities in the legacy application repository.

The teams were able to duplicate an entire deployment of a piece of software. They accessed the legacy code, containerized the application in Docker, used Nexus Lifecycle to scan for security vulnerabilities, fixed the issues they identified, and updated the Docker image so the whole application was ready for production deployment.

Challenge 3: Cyber Attacks

What’s a Hackathon without cyber exploits and attacks? As part of these challenges we wanted to expose teams to a cybersecurity lifecycle which established better situational awareness, detected and analyzed threats, and provided mitigation and remediation of their network through use of a Nutantix infrastructure and an Amazon AWS hybrid cloud environment. During these challenges we had teams deploy and configure security tools and then gather and analyze logs across multiple systems. Teams used Wireshark and Splunk to analyze incidents.

Throughout the event, teams filed incident reports as they discovered malicious code, probes and scans, attacks, and successful intrusions. Since maintaining physical security is just as critical as maintaining the security of a system and network, one team even filed multiple incident reports by citing folks who approached their team area without their badges properly displayed.

Bonus Challenges

Our bonus challenges ranged from a cloning an existing virtual machine to a Capture the Flag cyber exercise. However, since the Hackathon fell on National Selfie Day, the most popular bonus challenge was for the teams to submit a selfie (photo bombers did not earn extra points!).

During the Capture the Flag (CTF) challenge, teams had to maintain their persistence on the system. All teams had access to the system and they had to plant a flag (such as run a website with their team name), and prevent other teams from keeping their flag up. During the challenge, the Red Team also hacked into their system and prevented other teams from issuing commands while also deleting their flags. Teams were scored on their ability to keep the flag up with the associated services.

The Results

When we created the Hackathon teams, we balanced the team members’ strengths so they covered the three main challenge areas of infrastructure, DevSecOps and cyber. Working together as a team, they were each taken out of their comfort zones and exposed to new concepts and tools. Most participants had not used Nutanix before the event and others didn’t know much about DevOps or how to analyze log files. But working together, they applied their knowledge and expertise to fill in the gaps and complete their challenges. Onsite and online support from Nutanix, Sonatype, and CSRA subject matter experts provided an extra boost to push through the more complex challenges.

It was a great learning experience for the participants, with some big takeaways:

  • Ability to advise clients on innovative and efficient ways to better achieve their goals by moving to a cloud platform
  • Established relationships with industry-leading CSRA alliances and gained experience with their products, enabling us to present partnership solutions
  • Established relationships with colleagues across different work roles and projects
  • Heightened interest in pursuing certifications in security and cloud technologies that will add value to our clients and help advance our careers

The CSRA Cyber Institute focuses on the importance of providing hands-on training so that our students are equipped to go into the field and apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities they’ve learned in class. Our Hackathons show the benefits of learning new skills in real-world situations.

Ultimately, the purpose and intent of the Hackathon was to validate and reinforce the mindset that everyone is responsible for security, with the goal of safely distributing decisions at speed and scale. In a single two-day event, our colleagues greatly expanded their knowledge, skills and abilities, and also gained a broader understanding of the challenges our clients face and how CSRA can solve them using alliance partner products, best practices, and good old-fashioned teamwork.

Many thanks to our event sponsors AWS, CompTIA, Nutanix and Sonatype for their support of the event. And, congratulations to our winning team: Hack4Good!

Please note: The content on this page was originally posted on prior to its acquisition by General Dynamics. This content was migrated to on July 9, 2018.​