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Young would-be cyber warriors battle it out at Bletchley Park

Would-be cyber warriors battled it out at historic Bletchley Park in the CyberCenturion final, with the team from Gibraltar being crowned the top young cyber defenders

Sixty of the UK’s brightest 12 to 18-year-olds competed at the UK’s World War II code-breaking headquarters in the national finals of CyberCenturion, a country-wide cyber security competition that included a team from Gibraltar that took top honours. 

Ten teams battled it out in a high pressure, face-to-face cyber defence scenario in the competition jointly sponsored by Cyber Security Challenge UK and global cyber security firm Northrop Grumman.

The finalists, who competed against hundreds of other challengers from across the UK and Overseas Territories in three gruelling qualifying rounds, are racing against the clock to defend a fictitious internet of things (IoT) startup from a cyber attack.

Contestants were tasked with identifying and remediating cyber security flaws in various common operating systems by analysing the nework of the CyberPatio startup, which creates connected garden furniture that links to the wider IoT network.

The scenario featured the growing IoT market, which looks set to grow from two billion connected objects in 2006, to 200 billion by 2020, vastly increasing the potential for costly data breaches.

Contestants worked in the shadow of Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, which helped decipher the Lorenz-encrypted messages in WWII, and the Witch, the world’s oldest original working digital computer at The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park.

The winning G-Sec team was made up of seven gaming enthusiasts from Gibraltar who programme games and explore java in their spare time, ranging in age from 13 to 21. 

Other finalists included a team whose captain previously won the National Science and Engineering competition with a computational design; a team of 15-year-olds that run a coding and robotics club for their school; and a team from Essex and Suffolk who are friends from different schools.

CyberCenturion mirrors the US CyberPatriot competition. It is part of a major US youth cyber science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) education programme presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation and created by the US Air Force Association.

Untapped security talent

The aim of the UK competition is to engage thousands of talented young individuals who have the skills to defend the UK online, but no real outlet for showcasing what they can do.

As a national team-based cyber security contest specifically for 12 to 18-year-olds, CyberCenturion is also designed to address the nationwide Stem skills gap by opening up cyber security education to youth groups from every sphere of life.

Andrew Tyler, chief executive for Europe at Northrop Grumman, said there is a huge pool of untapped talent and enthusiasm for Stem subjects among young people.

“We believe we can use our world-leading expertise in cyber to help dramatically boost the UK’s Stem skills base,” he said.

“We are addressing this issue around the world. In addition to CyberCenturion in Europe and CyberPatriot in the US, we also have CyberArabia in the Middle East. Each one is aimed at developing talent and helping inspire and enable young people to pursue a career in cyber security.

“It is critically important for the future of our global infrastructure that young people are engaged and the talent pipeline is filled.”

Inspiring young people

Stephanie Daman, CEO at Cyber Security Challenge UK, said the CyberCenturion competition is becoming one of the most successful coding and cyber events for this age group in the UK.

“With Northrop Grumman’s help, we have been able to reach more young people from a variety of backgrounds and encourage them to compete in a cyber security competition, whether or not they have the opportunity to study cyber at school,” she said.

With an expected deficit of 1.5 million unfulfilled jobs in cyber globally by 2020, Daman said it is vital to get children interested in the field at an early age.

Tim Reynolds, deputy chairman of The National Museum of Computing, said: “We are extremely happy to host the CyberCenturion final again this year. Through the museum’s learning programme, we aim to inspire young people by showcasing our rich heritage of technology, engineering and computing.”

By holding the competition at Bletchley Park, Reynolds said young people can see how skills – such as code-breaking, mathematics and computing – have developed and provide fulfilling and rewarding careers in modern day cyber security.

The winners of the competition received a selection of prizes – from resources, books and technology for their school, to a meeting with the senior members of Northrop Grumman Corporation and Cyber Security Challenge UK – where they can learn more about careers in cyber security.

As this year’s CyberCenturion competition has ended, organisers have opened registration for the next competition.

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