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The Institution of Engineering and Technology Hosts CyberCenturion 2018 Finals

On Thursday March 8 the Institution of Engineering and Technology in London played host to the national CyberCenturion 2018 finals, the culmination of a six-month online competition between almost 200 teams of school pupils, afterschool clubs, cadets and sixth formers led by global security company Northrop Grumman in partnership with government-backed Cyber Security Challenge UK and supported by the US Air Force Association.

Ten teams of finalists from across the UK and Overseas Territories gathered to compete in a day of hands-on cyber-challenges in which participants were tasked with working as the security team of a fictional gaming association to secure the gaming industry after a spate of cybersecurity attacks, using their skills to identify vulnerabilities, make critical patches and defend systems. The prize for the winning team was a trip to the United States to learn about cybersecurity.

Speaking to Infosecurity at the event Colin Lobley, Cyber Security Challenge UK’s new CEO, said that CyberCenturion is a competition designed to inspire a generation and to encourage them into careers in cybersecurity.

“It’s about promoting the image of the cybersecurity industry, making it accessible and showing that cyber is a very rewarding career path.” he added. “We all know about the cybersecurity skills gap and it is going to take long-term solutions to fix that and we have to start getting in at the grassroots level – that’s what this is about. First and foremost though it’s about letting the kids have an awful lot of fun!”

Colin Lobley: “It’s about promoting the image of the cybersecurity industry, making it accessible and showing that cyber is a very rewarding career path”
Colin Lobley: “It’s about promoting the image of the cybersecurity industry, making it accessible and showing that cyber is a very rewarding career path”

Andrew Tyler, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Europe, added that the single biggest challenge that Northrop Grumman faces is not in demand for its cyber and intelligence services, but in finding really, really good people, and an awful lot of the talent in the UK is coming out of schools and universities.

“CyberCenturion provides kids the opportunity to get hands-on in a realistic cybersecurity environment and gives them a taste for it. Obviously as the industry sponsor for the competition, we hope participants will remember the name Northrop Grumman and stay in touch with us, but actually we’re doing this for the whole community – doing our bit to foster STEM and cyber-skills.”

It’s that hands-on element of the competition that adds an extra element in nurturing those types of skills out of the classroom, Tyler continued, adding a very different dimension with many hours spent in a realistic cyber-defense environment.

“Also, leaving aside the cyber-skills, the teamwork element is really important and the competition requires very, very close net teams to work together. I think in all walks of life teamwork is a fundamental skill.”

Andrew Tyler: “The teamwork element is really important and the competition requires very, very close net teams to work together”
Andrew Tyler: “The teamwork element is really important and the competition requires very, very close net teams to work together”

This year’s CyberCenturion final was the first to include a team entirely of female participants, something that Lobley said showed that progress is being made in attracting more girls into the cyber industry.

“The competition this year was designed in a way to encourage more girls to enter,” he explained. “We’ve got a real issue [to fix] in the industry, because diversity does improve the quality of organizational outcomes. We can’t fix it [gender imbalance in cyber] overnight, but things like this are phenomenal.”

Tyler agreed, adding that there are challenges in getting girls interested in STEM and particularly cyber, but “you find the ones who are, are some of the best there are, and it’s a career that actually really suits girls.”

As the day drew to a close so did CyberCenturion 2018, and after a busy day of competition team You Really Can't C Me were crowned the winners, securing the all-expenses paid trip to the US to meet Northrop Grumman senior figures, visit national landmarks and learn more about coding and cyber at venues such as the National Cryptologic Museum. Saved By The Bell came in second place, with Vault 7 in third.

With thoughts turning to next year’s competition, Lobley expressed his desire to make CyberCenturion THE cyber competition in the industry for youngsters, with hopes to increase its range, attractiveness and scale.

For any young people looking to take part next year, Lobey said there are so many benefits to gain from being involved: “It’s not about winning the prizes, it’s about having a good time, building friendships, equipping yourself for your further education and life in general, and it will look good on your CV!”

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