HACKtheMACHINE Austin

AUSTIN, TEXAS  February 2017

The Navy took another new step to connect with a much broader pool of technical talent beyond its service members and traditional defense contractors by hosting HACKtheMACHINE Austin in February of 2017.  The Navy challenged experts from across the country to compete in three challenges.  First they unveiled a maritime electronics test bed built on market leading commercial technology for sea going vessels around the world and conducted a capture the flag game with participants. Second, they hosted a data science challenge looking at the utility of new space based commercial sensors in addressing maritime domain awareness challenges like human trafficking and migrants lost at sea.  Finally, they executed a design thinking event looking at alternatives to GPS.  HACKtheMACHINE Austin wrapped all three of these challenges into a three day program at Austin's premier technology hub, Capital Factory.

HACKtheMACHINE Austin took place from February 17th to February 19th and was the wildly successful follow on from an initial public outreach effort in June of 2016, HACKtheSKY San Francisco.  The series is led by the Naval Postgraduate School, Center for Cyber Warfare Director, Commander Zac Staples and organized by a team of collaborators that includes Booz Allen Hamilton, the Navy Innovation and Advisory Council, and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.

Participants in the Maritime Capture the Flag challenge were tasked to hack into Booz Allen’s “Boat in a Box,” a complex software system designed to simulate the systems that are used aboard workboats around the world. The “Boat in a Box” system called the Tactical Reconfigurable Underway Data Interface (TRUDI) contains various communication interfaces used at sea, including the automatic recognition systems that are used to prevent collisions and weather satellite radio systems.

Participants gathered at Capital Factory, a collaborative workspace in Austin, Texas. The Navy has chosen to use tech hubs as hosts instead of military bases as part of the effort to attract a new, wider talent base. These efforts are intended to highlight for an emerging group of highly skilled technology and software experts that service to country may not require donning a uniform.  Developing new technology and partnering to deliver insights is a viable way to support national defense for anyone inside or outside of Silicon Valley.

The Navy’s first venture into digital outreach was last year’s HACKtheSKY, an event that took place June 24th-26th at Galvanize in downtown San Francisco and invited hackers, cyber experts, representatives from small tech companies, and data scientists to participate in the program. According to the Navy’s official statement, the premise of the event was to hack into the drone operating system that had set a record the year before by enabling a single operator to fly 50 drones simultaneously.