HackWarz®: Fueling Innovation and Expertise in the Cybersecurity Arena

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How Life Cycle Engineering’s Michael Hoyt has created a solution to combat the advancing issues of cybersecurity.


There are over 750,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in the US…and the cost of cybercrime is predicted to hit $8 trillion in 2023. The question isn’t if you’ll be hacked, it’s when. As the Department of Defense, federal, state and local governments, industrial and commercial entities work to leverage the NIST and ISO standards to harden cyber defenses, hackers are innovating and deploying new exploits at an ever-increasing pace. Life Cycle Engineering’s Director of Enterprise IT Solutions, Michael Hoyt, knows this better than anyone.

Hoyt noticed there was a lack of awareness in cybersecurity, but also in the career field. He was very passionate about making a change to promote knowledge within the cyber security realm and creating a space for those entering the workforce. This initiative resulted in the creation of an interactive workshop competition called, HackWarz®.

Michael Hoyt first launched his initiative, HackWarz, internally at LCE. He first developed a cyber-range for internal purposes only, this was strictly employee access. “This was not very common at all, very rarely would you hear of accessible cyber range environments,” said Hoyt. This program was more focused on providing points and recognition for taking the right approach as opposed to a generic ‘Capture the Flag’ style program. He wanted this experience to teach the process of cybersecurity through a competition-based activity.

“It’s not as much about getting access but learning about the environment, growing and building your artifacts for what you’re going to use for your future exploitation of vulnerabilities,” said Hoyt.

Having been in the field for 10+ years, he became an expert in ethical hacking, then, applied his skills to LCE through internal audits and testing. From there, Michael began speaking at conferences, supporting cyber security with the mission of coaching them to think. “We don’t teach, we promote thinking,” said Hoyt.

After the initial launch, HackWarz became a regular offering to LCE employees. In the early stages, there were 20-25 participants, some of whom were allowed to compete at DEF CON, an esteemed annual hacking convention held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Eventually, the HackWarz community grew within LCE, and this led to external competition, requested by conferences such as CDCA Summit, AFCEA Maritime IT Summit, Charleston Chamber of Commerce Cyber Conference, Hack@SCack conference and Palmetto Cyber Defense Competition, just to name a few.

Michael Hoyt’s adventure which started as an internal challenge has blossomed into an interactive learning environment that will fuel innovation and expertise within the cyber security realm.

The event is a team-based opportunity marketed to students who have an interest in computer science and systems, to hone their cyber security skills and flex their ethical hacking muscles. HackWarz provides students with the chance to compete in an environment to identify and compromise vulnerabilities in a dedicated digital environment built and curated by the LCE cybersecurity community team.

In preparation for the competition, LCE offers a HackWarz Training Day. This one-day workshop combines the HackWarz ethical hacking competition with the RMF six-step Security Life Cycle to demonstrate how to think like a hacker when designing a systems hardening plan. All students completing a class at the Life Cycle Institute receive a certificate of completion awarding CEUs.

HackWarz has grown from Michael Hoyt’s internal project to an annually anticipated event within the world of cybersecurity. It’s attended by college students all across the Southeastern United States with hopes of bringing home the first place prize of $500 cash and the knowledge to guide them as they advance in their careers.

“As for the future of HackWarz, an ultimate dream for this program is to create an online environment to lessen participant limitations through outlets such as Amazon where consumers can deploy their own HackWarz challenge,” said Hoyt.

Furthermore, due to our LCE partners, this may become even bigger by having separate events for industry professional practitioners which will be held several times per year.