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    2024 NetWars Winner Makes Cyber Shield History

    2024 NetWars Winner Makes Cyber Shield History

    Photo By Staff Sgt. Hannah Tarkelly | Oklahoma Army National Guardsman 1st Lt. Makya Stell, assigned to the 205th Network...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Hannah Tarkelly 

    382nd Public Affairs Detachment

    Virginia Beach, Va. – The NetWars game clock quickly wound down as the top competitors fought for first place. The participants were typing away and intently discussing how to solve the last challenges. The room was filled with cyber security experts and “newbies” from around the world who had their eyes glued to screens riddled with cyber challenges at the State Military Reserve Virginia Beach on June 9th, 2024.

    As the final minutes of the two-night cyber showdown approached, the tension was palpable. The screens flickered and went dark, concealing the current standings in a suspenseful blackout. The SANS network team gathered closely around their monitors, eyes fixed on the top three contenders as they engaged in a fierce competition for supremacy. In a display of skill and strategy, positions shifted rapidly; champions were dethroned and underdogs rose to the challenge, all within the span of mere minutes.

    Oklahoma Army National Guardsman 1st Lt. Makya Stell was one of the NetWars “newbies” going head to head with cyber experts who proved to be fierce competitors.

    “When the leaderboard was gone, I had no idea where I was ranked,” Stell said. “I just kept coding and kept trying to figure stuff out.”

    In the final minutes of the competition, the song “The Final Countdown” played until the competition clock hit 0:00 and hands were removed from keyboards. The leaderboard lit up the room to reveal the final winners.

    “When the leaderboard came back up everyone was in shock,” Stell said.

    Fellow competitors swarmed Stell shouting “You’re up there, you won!”

    Stell looked up in disbelief to find her name at the very top of the leaderboard. Before she could process the victorious feet, fellow cyber professionals began shaking her hand and expressing their astonishment at her immaculate coding skills.

    Toward the end, Stell was able to score high bonus questions to secure her win. In that very last minute, Stell became the first woman to win the annual NetWars at Cyber Shield.

    “I definitely didn’t expect to be number one when I signed up for NetWars,” Stell said.

    Although Stell appeared to be a natural at the NetWars games, she revealed that this was her first Cyber Shield event and first ever NetWars competition.

    Stell works as a signal officer with the 205th Network Signal Company, 45th Field Artillery Brigade in Mustang, Oklahoma. Stell also works full-time as a software developer for Northrop Grumman. She has a computer engineer degree and is currently studying for her master’s. Stell’s civilian background enticed Oklahoma’s Defense Cyber Operations Element (DCOE) to invite her to this year’s Cyber event.

    Since Stell’s expertise is with software development, tasks such as penetration testing and hacking proved to be challenging compared to her civilian acquired skills and profession.

    “I’ve never done anything professionally like what I just did in there today,” Stell said. “Netwars was so difficult in comparison to what i’m used to and it took a lot of research because I didn’t know a lot coming into it.”

    Despite cyber security being outside her realm of expertise, Stell managed to learn quickly and use her coding skills to end up on top.

    “Hopefully my win instills confidence in the future years of women that come to Cyber Shield and think ‘I can do this too,’” Stell said. “These games show that you’re able to, as a woman, do the same things and be on that equal playing field.”

    This experience has encouraged Stell to explore cyber security in the National Guard and expressed excitement to be invited back to next year’s annual Cyber Shield.

    “The whole time I was just having fun,” Stell said. “It’s just a fun event to learn how to be hacking and learning at the same time.. I think it was a great opportunity and I think everyone should try it.”



    Date Taken: 06.11.2024
    Date Posted: 06.12.2024 12:17
    Story ID: 473671

    Web Views: 280
    Downloads: 1