Identify cutting-edge solutions to address critical cyber threats and challenges faced by the DoD to win part of a $1 million prize pool.


The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), in partnership with Department of Defense University Consortium for Cybersecurity (UC2), is executing a prize challenge focused on advancing cybersecurity capabilities through innovative research initiatives. This event aims to identify individuals or teams, capable of developing cutting-edge solutions to address critical cyber threats and challenges faced by the DoD.

A team of subject matter experts (SMEs) will evaluate applicants and select up to the top 15 students/teams (5 from each problem area) as finalists for participation in the virtual Pitch Day in July 2024. A total of $1 million in awards will be distributed among the top performers.

Problem Statement

The challenge consists of three separate problem areas, each requiring distinct solutions that include both technical and partner engagement elements. Participants may submit proposals to address one problem statement per submission. Below is a breakdown of the problem areas and associated funding:

1) Modeling and Predictive Analytics (Total funding: $350,000)

  • 1st Place: $175,000
  • 2nd Place: $100,000
  • 3rd Place: $75,000

Description: Modeling may capture physical, virtual, or behavioral-based observations, and may be rule-based, mathematical, statistical, or physical. Modeling spans both host-based and network-based problems. Modeling can help analysts, operators, planners, and other decision-makers understand the effects of information and cyber activities through technical, social, cultural, and behavioral science. This is about models and the skills to use them.

  • Methods of ascertaining the intent of the messaging, methods of transmission and amplification, and clustering of messaging to identify priorities and objectives of great power nations, to include considerations of language culture, and ethical implications.

  • Methods for understanding, modeling, and predicting activities in the information environment, such as malign influence campaigns, both in terms of public sentiment and information consumption (e.g., trending topics), adversarial attempts to steer that sentiment, and their ability to succeed.

2) Persona and Influence (Total funding: $325,000)

  • 1st Place: $150,000
  • 2nd Place: $100,000
  • 3rd Place: $75,000

Description: Many problems in cyberspace depend on persona and identity intelligence. User authentication and behavior-based attribution falls in this category, as do the counterpart offensive activities of spoofing, credential misuse, and identity fabrication.

  • Understand how adversaries use masquerading techniques and on-line personas, and how these techniques avoid identification and detection. Recognize and attribute malign use of false personas and messaging, recognizing flaws in development and employment of these entities.

  • New workforce programs and skills to identify, understand, operate, and assess identify fabrication within networks, including foreign information activity in cyberspace, which emphasizes language, culture, and ethical implications skills.

3) Data and Permeability (Total funding: $325,000)

  • 1st Place: $150,000
  • 2nd Place: $100,000
  • 3rd Place: $75,000

Description: Proposals should address the tradeoff between protecting classified sources and methods and leveraging external knowledge, data, and situational awareness of uncleared partners. Cross-domain challenge problems cover the agility and speed-to-market of advanced cyber solutions, or the lack thereof, due to classification, shareability, or equity concerns, and the infrastructure and security practices that hinder fluidity across the various boundaries. This is all about data, if you can get it.

  • Create synthetic threats, users, and network activity in a customizable and re-playable manner, which can measure and record DCO operator performance and skill level, and increase complexity of the simulated threats based on user setting or on the measured operator’s skill level.

  • Simulate high-fidelity real-world networks to collect and anonymize real-world network and host data for re-use in a simulated environment.

  • Develop policy and/or strategy for data sharing for cybersecurity research to address the legal challenges and authorities.

Participants are encouraged to submit proposals aligned with their expertise and capabilities, focusing on a single problem area per submission.

Key Dates

  • May 20, 2024: Solicitation Release - IdeaScale,, NSIN website,

  • May 31, 2024: “Ask Me Anything” Session #1

  • June 12, 2024: “Ask Me Anything” Session #2

  • June 21, 2024: Solicitation Closes & Down-selection Begins

  • July 2, 2024: Down-selection Ends & Finalists Announced

  • July 12, 2024: Pitch Rehearsal

  • July 15, 2024: Virtual Pitch Event

  • July 22, 2024: Winner Announced

Benefits of Participating

  • $1 million in awards to the top performers
  • Exposure to leaders across multiple branches of the DoD
  • Potential for follow-on opportunities such as Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs), Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), and others


  • University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs)
  • University faculty, researchers and students at accredited institutions of higher education (U.S. citizenship required, 18 years of age or older)
  • Applicants may submit individually or as teams
  • Participants who are required to obtain a SAM UEID (System for Award Management Unique Entity Identifier), such as UARCs (University Affiliated Research Centers), must ensure they have obtained one prior to the submission window closing. While not all participants may require a SAM UEID, it is essential for those entities mandated to possess one for eligibility.

Submit Now

Participants must submit solutions for the Cyber Innovators Challenge via the Ideascale link below.

Submit Now

Judging Criteria:

Applications will be judged on four major criteria:

Clarity and Relevance: Clear communication of ideas and alignment with the specified problem statement.

Format and Organization: Well-structured layout, adherence to formatting guidelines, and easy-to-follow organization.

Supporting Evidence: Use of relevant data, references, and examples and justification of proposed solution.

Overall Quality: Effectiveness and impact of the white paper, as well as the strength of the proposed solution and its potential impact.

Pitches will be judged on four major criteria:

Technical: Soundness, technical merit, innovation of proposed approach, and feasibility of the proposed solution.

Team: Qualifications of proposed principals, support staff, and consultants.

Quality of Pitch: Proposer presents a clear and concise overview of its team and technology, demonstrates how its technology solves one or more of the defined problem areas, and effectively answers questions from strategic advisors.

Operational Effectiveness: Proposed solution aligns with listed capabilities.

Technical Capabilities List:

Topic Area 1: Modeling and Predictive Analytics

1) Modeling Capabilities:

  • Ability to capture physical, virtual, or behavioral-based observations.
  • Expertise in rule-based, mathematical, statistical, or physical modeling techniques. Proficiency in modeling both host-based and network-based problems.

2) Analysis and Interpretation:

  • Skills in interpreting modeling results to understand the effects of information and cyber activities.
  • Expertise in technical, social, cultural, and behavioral science to inform modeling decisions.

3) Application and Integration:

  • Capability to apply modeling insights to aid analysts, operators, and decision-makers.
  • Integration of modeling into decision-making processes to enhance operational effectiveness.

Topic Area 2: Persona and Influence

1) Identity Intelligence:

  • Proficiency in user authentication and behavior-based attribution techniques.
  • Skills in identifying and mitigating offensive activities such as spoofing and credential misuse.

2) Behavioral Analysis:

  • Ability to analyze and interpret behavioral patterns to understand persona and influence dynamics.
  • Expertise in detecting and responding to identity fabrication attempts.

Topic Area 3: Data and Permeability

1) Data Management:

  • Ability to handle classified and unclassified data sources securely.
  • Expertise in managing data flow across different security domains and boundaries.

2) Integration and Interoperability:

  • Capability to integrate external knowledge, data, and situational awareness into existing systems.
  • Proficiency in ensuring interoperability between systems across different security classifications.

3) Security and Compliance:

  • Expertise in addressing security concerns related to data sharing and permeability.
  • Compliance with relevant regulations and standards governing data access and sharing.

End-User: U.S. Department of Defense


1. Partner Engagement Submission Requirement: All proposals submitted for consideration must complete a dedicated section addressing the Partner Engagement within the submission form. This section should focus on measuring research partnerships for cybersecurity research, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act 2020. Specifically, proposals should address communication, collaboration, and access between the Department of Defense (DoD) and academic institutions.

a. Evaluation Process: Proposals will be evaluated based on their ability to address partnership engagement plans aimed at resolving communication, collaboration, and access challenges faced by academic institutions and DoD partners. Key interests include research findings applicable to day-to-day operations, knowledge transfer for future research, partner engagement plans to ensure the DoD workforce remains updated, and anticipation of adversary advances. Also, feasibility for knowledge sharing within busy schedules, across disciplines, clearance restrictions and other barriers. Engagement can be as much of a challenge as invention. Creativity about communication with the end-user to ensure your ideas translate.

b. Creativity and Innovation: Proposals should demonstrate creativity in overcoming challenges related to communication, collaboration, and access. The evaluation will assess how well proposals address these integral elements of innovation to ensure effective knowledge sharing between innovators and end-users.

2. Technical White Paper Proposal: Required for problem areas 1-3. Participants will submit a detailed technical proposal outlining their approach to addressing the problem statement and partner engagement plan. This proposal should include:

a. Overview of the proposed solution, including key concepts and methodologies.

b. Description of the technical architecture and components of the proposed solution.

c. Explanation of how the proposed solution addresses the specific challenges outlined in the problem statement.

d. Technical diagrams, models, or prototypes to illustrate the proposed solution.

e. Discussion of potential challenges and risks, along with mitigation strategies.

f. Timeline for implementation and milestones for project completion.

g. Partner engagement plan, describing their communication, collaboration, and access ideas to share their research with a DoD partner.

3. Pitch Deck: In addition to the technical proposal, participants are required to prepare and submit a pitch deck for presentation during the pitch event. The pitch deck should provide a concise overview of the proposed solution, focusing on key highlights and benefits. It should include:

a. Introduction to the team and their expertise.

b. Problem statement and solution overview.

c. Key features and functionalities of the proposed solution.

d. Unique selling points and competitive advantages.

e. Potential applications and impact of the solution.

f. Any relevant demonstrations or proof of concept.

g. Partner engagement plan, describing their communication, collaboration, and access ideas to share their research with a DoD partner.

While the overall structure of the deliverables may be similar across all problem areas, participants should tailor their submissions to address the specific requirements and objectives outlined in each problem statement. Additionally, participants should ensure that their submissions align with the evaluation criteria and judging criteria specified in the solicitation document.

White Paper Submission Requirements:

Participants are required to submit a 5-page white paper detailing their technology capabilities and addressing the specified features:

  • Document size: 8.5 x 11 inches
  • Font: Times New Roman, size 12, single spaced
  • Submitted as a PDF document
  • Maximum 5 pages

Pitch Deck Submission Requirements:

Teams will submit a pitch deck outlining their technology capabilities that addresses the required and desired features above. Pitch decks should meet the following format requirements:

  • Sized 16:9 (1920x1080 pixels)
  • Horizontal presentation
  • PDF file
  • Maximum 10 slides

About National Security Innovation Network

NSIN is a program office in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), nested within the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). We are set up to collaborate with a wide variety of innovators to include universities, researchers, students, entrepreneurs and start-ups. We create opportunities for collaboration across communities and connect those that might not traditionally work in national security. Together, we help drive national security innovation and develop technologies that directly support the individuals responsible for protecting our country.

For more information or interview requests with Team NSIN, please contact us at

About University Consortium for Cybersecurity

UC2 The Department of Defense University Consortium for Cybersecurity provides the Secretary of Defense a formal channel of communication with academic institutions regarding the DoD’s cybersecurity strategic plans, requirements, and priorities for research. UC2 facilitates access for academic institutions to respond with their ideas to DoD stakeholders, promoting collaboration, and research through partnership. We believe scientific innovation must be integrated with workforce development through education. This approach equally ensures that we are ready and learning, set to benefit immediately from new advances across disciplines, and better prepared for change on the horizon. We are committed to stewarding work on ethical research implications between DoD stakeholders and academic institutions to inform and enable innovation. Our work aligns with the National Cybersecurity Strategy Pillar Four, the DoD Responsible Artificial Intelligence Strategy and Implementation Pathway, and consistently promotes the goals of equity and inclusion for research and education expressed in the White House STEMM initiative.

Intellectual Property Considerations: Applicants retain ownership of existing Intellectual Property (IP) submitted under this Challenge and agree that their submissions are their original work. Applicants are presumed to have sufficient rights to submit the submission. For any submission made to the Challenge, you grant NSIN and UC2 a limited license to use this IP for testing and evaluation for efforts specifically related to the Challenge. NSIN and UC2will negotiate with individual competitors in the event additional usage, integration, or development is contemplated.

Other Transaction Authority: This NSIN Challenge public announcement is an open call to small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors seeking innovative, commercial technologies proposed to create new DoD solutions or potential new capabilities fulfilling requirements, closing capability gaps, or providing potential technological advancements, technologies fueled by commercial or strategic investment, but also concept demonstrations, pilots, and agile development activities improving commercial technologies, existing Government-owned capabilities, or concepts for broad Defense application(s). As such, the Government reserves the right to award a contract or an Other Transaction for any purpose, to include a prototype or research, under this public announcement. The Federal Government is not responsible for any monies expended by the applicant before award and is under no obligation to pursue such Other Transactions.

Satisfying Competition Requirements: This NSIN Challenge Open Call Announcement is considered to have potential for further efforts that may be accomplished via FAR-based contracting instruments, Other Transaction Authority (OTA) for Prototype Projects 10 USC 4022 and Research 10 USC 4021, Prizes for advanced technology achievements 10 USC 4025, and/or Prize Competitions 15 USC 3719. The public open call announcement made on the IdeaScale website is considered to satisfy the reasonable effort to obtain competition in accordance with 10 USC 4025(b), 15 USC 3719 (e) and 10 USC 4022 (b)(2). Accordingly, FAR-based actions will follow announcement procedures per FAR 5.201(b).