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York teen crowned 2018 UK cyber security champion

Teenager beat off competition from 41 other cyber security enthusiasts from across the UK, and six from Singapore, in the UK Cyber Security Challenge final

Charlie Hosier has won the 2018 UK Cyber Security Challenge after beating off competition from 41 other cyber security enthusiasts from across the UK, and six from Singapore, in the final in London.

The 19-year-old from York, a student at Edinburgh Napier University, was awarded the top prize in the 2018 competition at the end of the three-day final round.

Developed by Barclays and backed by the UK government, this year’s “Cryptofactor” challenge saw teams employ complex defence methods to expose an attack on a fictional cryptocurrency exchange firm.

The final, which followed a series of rigorous security-based qualifying competitions throughout the year, put the skills of the budding codebreakers to the test.

The winning team of seven were aged between 18 and 34 and hailed from Bournemouth, Bradford, London, Great Missenden and Chilworth.

Overall winner Hosier described the final as an “amazing” and “challenging” experience. “I still can’t believe I won,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling and has given me a great opportunity to get my dream job in cyber security.”

Held at Barclays headquarters in Canary Wharf, the final tasked competitors with managing a cyber security attack in the role of a security team that works with a number of FinTech and cryptocurrency clients.

The scenario was constructed in the light of successful attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges and services providers in recent years, which have led to a weakening of trust in cryptocurrencies and sent shockwaves through the industry.

In the heavily regulated financial sector, it is especially important for businesses to be adequately protected, not only to prevent penalties and fines, but also to ensure customer trust.

Barclays security experts used their professional experience to develop a series of cryptocurrency-themed challenges set in the context of a detailed storyline for this year’s challenge finale, designed to test contestants’ skillsets in a simulated industry environment.

Finalists battled it out to protect a fictional company, Research4U, and presented their findings afterwards at a mock press conference to further mirror the real-world business demands and applications of cyber security.

Working as a team of researchers, the contestants investigated part of Research4U’s secure storage for fintech startups. The challenge began upon the discovery that cryptomining malware had been installed and data had been stolen from the organisation’s sales portal, which then saw cyber criminals demand a ransom to decrypt the data.

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The contestants worked in teams to investigate, mitigate and control the cyber attack and worked on an effective and secure network design for future protection. After the investigation, the teams hosted a mock press conference to present their findings to the media and key stakeholders.

Paul Gillen, head of the cyber security operations centre at Barclays, said: “Until you have lived through a real-life cyber threat, or worse, an attack, it can be difficult to know what to expect and exactly how that might look. 

“We have worked with Cyber Security Challenge UK, using cutting-edge technology, to create what we believe to be the closest thing to a real-life situation.  It has been great to witness the contestants fully immerse themselves in the scenario we put to them. We’ve seen some really excellent problem-solving and quick thinking, with both skills being key to a successful role in cyber security.”

Colin Lobley, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK, said the final highlighted the multifaceted role that cyber security professionals now need to take on.

“Having great coding and computer literacy skills is still very useful, however other skills, such as psychology and communication, are equally important,” he said. “Knowing how to communicate the actions, steps and procedures that a business or organisation has taken to mitigate an attack are now business-critical. We are really pleased that Barclays sees this too and is helping to develop these skills in the UK.”

The 42 UK contestants were joined by six finalists from the Singaporean Cyber Security Challenge, a programme delivered by the Singapore government, sponsored by BAE Systems. The Singapore challenge is aligned with the UK programme and the partnership is part of the ongoing business relationship between the two countries following the international delegation to Singapore in 2014.

Cyber Security Challenge UK is supported in part by the National Cyber Security Programme, the UK government’s £1.9bn investment to transform the UK’s cyber security. The 2016-2021 National Cyber Security Strategy sets out how the UK government will deliver a UK that is secure and resilient to cyber threats, prosperous and confident in the digital world.

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