GCHQ challenges UK amateurs to defend government from cyber attacks

GCHQ's national Cyber Security Challenge competition tests the ability of amateur cyber defenders to protect a simulated government IT system

The UK national Cyber Security Challenge has launched another competition to test the ability of amateur cyber defenders to protect a simulated government IT system.

The competition is designed and run by the government’s communications intelligence agency, GCHQ. It requires competitors to manage the risks posed by attacks – from hostile states, organised criminal cyber gangs or individual hackers – to a simulated government IT system.

Balancing the Defence, as the competition is known, is open to anyone aged 16 or over who is not actively working in cyber security.

Competitors will be tasked with analysing a mocked-up network typical of government departments. They will be asked to look for vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit, prioritise the threats and, while working to a tight budget, suggest a range of defensive controls, both technical and policy-based, to reduce the risk to the network.

A GCHQ spokesman said: “Cyber Security Challenge UK has proved itself a very accomplished mechanism for finding new talent. We hope this competition will uncover those who have the vital mix of technical ability and business awareness to make tough decisions in the best interest of an organisation. At GCHQ we are committed to finding and developing the new cyber security skills in the UK and these are the skills sets employers including ourselves are most interested in.”

The competition will take place from 1 to 8 October 2012.

Meeting the demand cyber security skills

The Cyber Security Challenge UK began in 2010 as three competitions run by a small group of supporters from industry, government and academia. The aim was to address a skills gap in the cyber security profession. Now in its third year, Cyber Security Challenge UK has grown its range of competitions to better represent the diverse skills demanded of the profession.

Cyber Security Challenge UK’s sponsorship has grown to over 50 organisations from across the cyber security landscape. It now acts as a source of advice, support and guidance for anyone interested in a career in cyber security.

Stephanie Daman, CEO, Cyber Security Challenge UK said: “Balancing the Defence is part of our new risk analysis and policy stream, which puts our candidates in the shoes of the professionals and makes them answer some difficult questions such as: 'Where do the biggest threats come from? Are there some risks I have to accept? What impact will my changes have on the organisation?'

“These are questions which cyber security professionals grapple with every day and answering them requires an aptitude that isn’t easy to identify from traditional CVs and job interviews. 

"We need a new approach if we are to find people with these skills in the numbers that the industry desperately needs. No organisation is better placed than GCHQ to help us deliver this.”

The winners from this virtual competition will be invited to the next stage of the challenge. This is a face-to face competition – developed by Orange with Prodrive, the British motorsport and automotive engineering group – to be held at Banbury race track on 24 November 2012.

At this leg of the competition, 30 candidates from the GCHQ competition and a second virtual competition, Dtex System’s Insider Threat game, will come up against a real-life motorsport set-up, complete with Aston Martin Racing car, pit crew, technical team and a complex ICT infrastructure which connects them all. Their task will be to deliver a practical security solution that protects the team’s IP and confidential information from its rivals.

Winners selected at this event will then be invited to attend the Challenge’s Masterclass and Awards weekend on 9 – 10 March 2013, where they will have the chance to compete for a range of career-enhancing prizes.

Last year’s prize pot amounted to over a £100,000 worth of bursaries, university courses, internships, training qualifications and certifications.

Read more about the UK Cyber Security Challenge


Read more on Hackers and cybercrime prevention