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Cyber competition

Students from Imperial College London have been declared the most talented university pupils in the UK for their cyber skills after beating competition from 11 other universities, which have been designated as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research.

Over 100 students represented their universities at Inter-ACE, a competition hosted by the University of Cambridge on Saturday, in a capture-the-flag style cyber contest. The aim; to showcase UK future cyber defenders. Students worked with Leidos’s CyberNEXS training platform in a scenario-based competition, featuring penetration testing against mock infrastructure, as well as discrete forensics challenges.

The victorious team QWERTY from Imperial College London were awarded £6,500. Second were SU-DON’T from the University of Southampton and third PM_ME_FLAGS, also from the University of Southampton. The Silver team took £2,500 and the bronze team went home with £1,000.

Inter-ACE is an annual cyber security competition backed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Cabinet Office, Leidos and NCC Group. It is designed to help tackle the UK’s cyber security skills gap as companies are struggling to recruit staff necessary to defend against major attacks.

Inter-ACE gives budding cyber enthusiasts a platform to test and improve their skills in a real-life simulation, meet like-minded individuals, and learn more about careers in the sector by introducing them to key players in the industry and government.

The Inter-ACE competition was hosted on Leidos’ CyberNEXS platform that enabled the contest to take place on a secure virtual environment to assess network and system attack-and-defend, forensics, and penetration strategies. This also gives users the ability to tactically test, evaluate, and train for current and next generation threats.

Individuals from the winning team of the Inter-ACE competition will now be guaranteed a place in the annual Cambridge2Cambridge (C2C) cyber competition later in July, jointly organised by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Boston, in the United States. This time, the teams competing at C2C will be mixed to include cyber defenders from the best universities from across the UK and US, who will come together to learn best practice in cyber security and demonstrate their ability to become future cyber defenders. The three-day event runs between July 24 and 26, at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Frank Stajano, Founder of Inter-ACE and Reader in Security and Privacy at the University of Cambridge, says: “The cyber security industry requires a range of skills that are not purely technical. From psychology and behavioural science, to leadership and business insights – a variety of skills will be key for the cyber security workforce of the future. Inter-ACE gives pupils the opportunity to implement the skills and theory they have been taught at university in a realistic environment, while learning new ones in the process, which will help grow them in to the cyber defenders of the future. It also teaches them to adapt to their surroundings and think on their feet, priming students to be trained in industry and make a real impact.

“Competitions such as Inter-ACE open the door for a wide range of individuals who may not have thought about embarking on a career in the industry previously. The pupils competing here have had the opportunity to experience the industry first-hand, in a fun but competitive environment, which could hopefully impact their career decisions in the future – inspiring them to pursue a career in the industry and increasing the talent pool in the process.”

Doreen Harwood, Leidos senior vice president, Cyber & SIGINT Solutions, adds: “Leidos is a strong supporter of STEM activities, and sees its importance in attracting and inspiring cybersecurity talent. By introducing students and professionals to CyberNEXS, we hope to increase their interest in this evolving field, and grow the future workforce to support critical global missions.”



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