CyberCenturion 2016 Winners Crowned at Bletchley Park Final

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The Cyber Security Challenge has shown the benefits of our industry to many new people. In a recent contest, Michael Hill attended to see a new school team enter the latest competition.

In April this year, the historic venue of The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) played host to the national finals of CyberCenturion 2016, a country-wide cybersecurity contest aimed at discovering and developing the cyber skills of youngsters in the UK. It was a school team from Gibraltar who eventually took the spoils after a day of fast-paced cyber competition at Bletchley Park, sponsored by Cyber Security Challenge UK and global security company Northrop Grumman.

Hundreds of players from across the country and overseas territories took part in the competition over three grueling qualifying rounds, leaving 10 remaining teams of the UK’s brightest 12-18 year olds tasked with using their cyber skills to protect a fictitious Internet of Things business dubbed ‘CyberPatio’, whose network was vulnerable to cyber-attack.

In the fitting shadow of Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer used to help decipher the Lorenz-encrypted messages in WWII and following some rousing opening speeches the final got underway, with competitors battling it out in a cyber-defense scenario much like those businesses face in the real world every day.

“The CyberCenturion competition is becoming one of the most successful coding and cyber events for this age group in the UK,” said Stephanie Daman, CEO at Cyber Security Challenge UK, the government's collaboration with UK industry and academia to find hidden cybersecurity talent across the country. “With an expected deficit of 1.5 million unfulfilled jobs in cyber globally by 2020, we need to get children interested in the field at an early age an STEM education programs allow us to do that.”

“The big issue for the industry is always trying to find properly skilled recruits,” Daman told Infosecurity. “There’s lots of talent out there but it’s all about getting it into the industry, and that’s really what the competition helps to do and that’s why it’s so important.”

These were sentiments echoed by Dr Andrew Tyler, chief executive Europe at Northrop Grumman, who told Infosecurity that CyberCenturion is focused on nurturing the next generation of cybersecurity specialists and without initiatives like it the future of the industry would have a far bleaker outlook.

“Quite often a new challenge comes along, like cyber, and we’re not very well equipped to produce the people required very quickly to deal with it, and it catches us out” he said.

“Between ourselves, our partner companies and the government, we’ve pretty much cleared the market in the UK of cyber specialists. We’ve now got to start growing the next generation of talent and that is 100% what this is all about.”

With the contest in full swing and the competitors all hard at work, Cyber Security Challenge took the opportunity to announce the launch of its new Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in cybersecurity to a brimming room of teachers, security professionals and journalists all gathered at the event.

The EPQ, which is supported by a range of education partners, will be officially rolled-out across schools/colleges, online and via social clubs in September. It is a level three qualification equivalent to an AS-Level (worth up to 70 UCAS points) and is designed to help address the UK’s cybersecurity skills shortage by giving students a structured understanding of the whole cyber domain – from risk management to digital forensics.

Brian Higgins, business development manager at one of the key supporters of the EPQ ISC2, told Infosecurity that the new qualification will link educational content and structure with National Occupational Standards and also the learning outcomes of undergraduate degree programs, “providing a real first step up the ladder for young people looking to move into the cybersecurity industry.”

Higgins explained that securing a job in cybersecurity requires more than just an interest in computers, you’ve got to be able to demonstrate “aptitude, knowledge, ability and enthusiasm for the subject” and doing something like an EPQ goes a long way to achieving that.

As the day drew to a close so did the CyberCenturion final and it was team G-SEC, made up of A-Level students from Bayside school and led by teacher Stewart Harrison, who were announced as the winners receiving a selection of prizes including resources, books and technology for their school.

“I am delighted that they have won,” Mr Harrison told Infosecurity. “My boys have worked very hard during the qualifying rounds and in the lead up to the Grand Finals. The whole experience of attending the event at Bletchley Park and competing against other such fantastic teams was an amazing feat in itself. I am immensely proud.”

“It's very rewarding to see the boys engage and enjoy the competitive element of the event. We don't provide enough opportunities in the education system for students to really stretch themselves and independently develop life skills. The discipline, transferable skills and team work efforts are of invaluable use to them now. All in all they have formed fantastic friendships that I am sure will last a lifetime.”

It really was great to see so many young, enthusiastic competitors taking part in the contest with such a clear passion for cybersecurity, something I believe to be a vital factor in the industry’s fight to close the current skills gap and with initiatives like CyberCenturion, the introduction of the new EPQ and the ongoing support of companies like Cyber Security Challenge, Northrop Grumman and ISC2, things are certainly heading in the right direction.

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