OSI 2 FIS shines during cybersecurity showdown

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading

In their debut at the 2024 President’s Cup Cybersecurity Competition, the Office of Special Investigations 2nd Field Investigations Squadron advanced to the second round.

"Although we didn't win, advancing to the second round was a significant accomplishment considering it was our first time," said Special Agent Tom Spearing, OSI 2 FIS. "We had a strong performance in the initial round and gained invaluable insights during the second round.”

OSI’s Cyber Investigations and Operations, or CI&O, integrates an array of Air Force Specialty Codes, including cyberwarfare specialists and the more traditional ‘1811s’ or OSI Special Agents. 

“The biggest challenge was covering the wide range of material in the competition,” Spearing said. “But our team comes from different backgrounds—software development, reverse engineering, digital forensics, etc. Managing a team with diverse strengths and weaknesses, all within time constraints, was our focus during preparation.”

The competition provided an opportunity for the team to function cohesively and utilize the expertise of each member, he said. It also offered a unique setting where they could experiment with new strategies and processes in a competitive environment, all without the risks associated with real-world operations.

The competition, initiated by a 2019 executive order on cybersecurity and hosted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, focuses on recognizing and enhancing cybersecurity skills within the federal workforce.

At the onset of the competition, 297 teams competed remotely across three weeks, each with designated six-hour timeslots. Despite not advancing to the third and final in-person round, reserved for the top five teams, the experience provided significant learning opportunities, Spearing said. 

"We've learned lessons from this year's challenges, which will undoubtedly enhance our preparation for next year," Spearing said. "Our commitment to competing again and advancing to the final round next year will significantly demonstrate the capabilities of OSI's CI&O program."

The challenges, based on CISA’s Workforce Framework for Cybersecurity, included engaging and instructive tasks designed to simulate common cybersecurity threats, like hacking into cyber networks. 

The competition encompassed a broad spectrum of cyber threats and tactics rather than focusing on specific threats or tactics, and according to Spearing, this approach highlighted the nature of pervasive cyber threats in modern life. 

“I’m very proud of our team’s performance during this year’s competition,” said Lt. Col. (Special Agent) Matthew Blake, OSI 2FIS commander. “This not only reflects the unique capabilities of OSI in the cyber domain, it is also a testament to what we can achieve towards the strategic focus of defending our nation against evolving cyber threats when we team with our partners throughout the Department of the Air Force.”