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Cyber defence day

Defence product company QinetiQ challenged UK amateur cyber defence talent to take part in a realistic global online terrorist attack at its UK head offices. The simulation was based on recent real-world threats that have infiltrated multi-nationals, according to the firm.

The competition, the latest from the Cabinet Office-backed Cyber Security Challenge UK, brought together 20 British code breakers, chosen from six months of assessments. They used cyber security tools and techniques to intercept and prevent a real-time attack on a fictional international publishing house. The action was managed and tracked through QinetiQ’s Portal facility, which is mainly used for classified military trials and simulations.

Robert Smith, 22, a student from Manchester; Ese Oduyoye, a 36-year-old games tester from London; Jamie Hankins, 19, a developer from Chepstow; and Mark Cole, 19, a student from Southampton were the winning team as judged by a panel from cyber security firms including hosts QinetiQ, Airbus, the National Crime Agency, BT, and JustASC. They win a series a variety of cyber security learning tools including a microprocessor, and educational cyber security textbooks, and Amazon vouchers to spend on new computing equipment.

“I learned a lot from today’s experience,” said Mark Cole – the youngest of the winning team. “I haven’t done this sort of competition in a team environment before and that was really new. What I learned today has made me more confident in this area and this will help me a lot in my course at Southampton University. Given what we did, the tasks we had to complete, and what I achieved, I am now going to take more modules in cyber security at Uni as its cyber is definitely something I am now looking at more seriously as a career.”

Another ten participants qualified for the 2015 Cyber Security Challenge UK Masterclass Final, which brings together an industry consortium including BT, GCHQ, NCA, Lockheed Martin, Juniper and Airbus Group to design a realistic cyber-terror simulation.

QinetiQ, one of the top 10 biggest employers of STEM graduates in Britain, is one of a number of UK companies to have recruited individuals identified by the Challenge through its national competitions since launch in 2010. The aim is to use these simulated cyber games with career advice and mentoring to plug an industry-wide cyber security skills gap in the UK.

The three-part face-to-face contest saw amateur cyber defenders use tools employed in real-world attacks to investigate a network breach; seek out security ‘vulnerabilities’ in a company; analyse ‘spear-phishing attacks’ used by cyber-crime gangs; and hunt down the terrorist gang behind the attack within a set time limit.

All the action took place inside QinetiQ’s Portal – a 6,000-square-foot real-time modelling, simulation, analysis and experimentation (MSA&E) facility, which is used for hundreds of classified trials, events and experiments for the Ministry of Defence.

Brian Lillie, Chief Technology Officer at QinetiQ, said: “With a growing international cyber terror threat from increasingly sophisticated threat actors, it is vital that the UK acts now to build its cyber skills pipeline. We created this competition to put some of Britain’s finest cyber talent to the test and begin preparing the next generation who will defend Britain online. Cyber security is one of the most important, and most widely neglected, of STEM subjects and we hope to encourage more people to consider a career in a profession that is increasingly vital to Britain’s economic future.”

And Stephanie Daman, CEO at Cyber Security Challenge UK said: “This competition was designed to be fun but it has a serious side; the Prime Minister recently said that cyber terror is one of the chief threats facing the UK, and, by recreating real cyber-terror attack scenarios, these contests help demonstrate how technically-gifted young people can play a vital role in defending our country and our economy within a highly rewarding career. We are working with some of the leading employers in Britain on a range of programmes to help raise awareness of the great career opportunities in this field and provide the next generation of talent.”

Earlier this year, the Cyber Security Challenge launched its 2014/15 online and face-to-face cyber games by introducing a new enemy, The Flag Day Associates, via a threat video:


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