Cyber Marines build relationship with JSDF cyber units during cyber competition

U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Michael Washington, a cyberspace defensive operator with Defensive Cyberspace Operations - Internal Defensive Measures Company, 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, competed in a joint cyber competition hosted by the Japan Self-Defense Force at the Japan Ministry of Defense Base Ichigaya, Japan, Dec. 6-7, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps courtesy photo)
U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Michael Washington, a cyberspace defensive operator with Defensive Cyberspace Operations - Internal Defensive Measures Company, 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, competed in a joint cyber competition hosted by the Japan Self-Defense Force at the Japan Ministry of Defense Base Ichigaya, Japan, Dec. 6-7, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps courtesy photo)

Cyber Marines build relationship with JSDF cyber units during cyber competition

by Lance Cpl. Brienna Tuck
III MEF Information Group

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan - A small team of Marines with Defensive Cyberspace Operations - Internal Defensive Measures Company (DCO-IDM), 7th Communication Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group (MIG), competed against four Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) teams in a capture the-flag cyber competition at the Japan Ministry of Defense Base Ichigaya, Japan, Dec. 6-7, 2021.

The Japanese-led event was designed to enhance the both forces’ cyber technical skills and facilitate a mutual understanding of cyber capabilities among the units. U.S. forces have participated in prior competitions but this year was the first time a Marine Corps unit was invited to participate.

The competition gave cyber Marines the opportunity to, not only practice their skills and compete to earn points, but more importantly expand capabilities by establishing relationships with their Japanese allies.

“Our top priority during this event was to gain exposure for the Marine Corps cyber capability in the Indo-Pacific Region,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Renteria, the mission element lead with DCO-IDM Company. “We also wanted to expose that to our Japanese counterparts in order to work together more efficiently in future operations.”

The competition consisted of challenges presented on a web server that represented real-world systems. Each team was responsible for discovering vulnerabilities in the systems security and once accomplished, a flag would appear for them to “capture,” earning them points.

The second day became more challenging with teams having to find vulnerabilities and defend the system from being exploited. Conditions changed with each event, requiring the teams to adapt to the challenges and expand their skill-sets.

Although the Marines did not win the competition, they gained experience that will help them in future competitions and real-world scenarios, said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Washington, a cyberspace defensive operator with DCO-IDM Company.

“The Marines gain experience from working in these types of environments that they don’t typically train for on a day-to-day basis,” said Washington. “Working with our allied cyber units allowed us to see how they handle different cyberspace threats and gave us a new perspective.”

Lance Cpl. Christopher Dondzil, a cyberspace defensive operator with DCO-IDM Company, said that the competition gave him a more holistic view of the cyber community.

“It is good training for us to see it from their [Japanese] perspective and learn about their cyberspace capability,” said Dondzil. “It helps us be better equipped analysts in our field.”

The Marine Corps has established three DCO-IDM companies to assist in achieving digital resiliency. The companies within each MEF were established as part of the Marine Corps’ previous force modernization plan, “Force 2025”, which was later followed by the current modernization effort, “Force Design 2030”.

DCO-IDM was activated in December 2018 as an information-related capability of III MIG. Defensive cyber operations are intended to assure mission success within the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) by defending mission-critical information and warfighting systems against a cyberspace attack. This provides the commander freedom of action in cyberspace and provides Marines a more secure network.

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