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Imperial College London students crowned “UK’s most talented” in cyber security competition

by Brian Sims

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

Over 100 students represented their universities at Inter-ACE – which was hosted by the University of Cambridge – in a ‘capture the flag’-style cyber security competition aimed at showcasing the UK’s future cyber defenders. Students worked with Leidos’ CyberNEXS training platform in a scenario-based competition that featured penetration testing against mock infrastructure, as well as discrete forensics challenges.

The victorious QWERTY team from Imperial College London was awarded £6,500 and the ‘Gold medal’, with the Silver going to SU-DON’T from the University of Southampton and PM_ME_FLAGS (also from the University of Southampton) earning Bronze. The Silver team scooped £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, the Cabinet Office, Leidos and the NCC Group. It’s designed to help tackle the huge cyber security skills gap, which latest figures suggest will increase to shortfall of 1.8 million individuals by 2022. Already, more than two-thirds of companies are struggling to recruit the level of staff necessary to defend against major attacks.

Testing and improving cyber skills

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 within both the industry and Government.

Leidos’ CyberNEXS platform enabled the contest to take place on a secure virtual environment to assess network and system ‘attack and defend’, forensics and penetration strategies. This environment 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 the summer, which is jointly organised by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. This time, the teams competing at C2C will be mixed to include cyber defenders from the best universities from across the UK and the 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 takes place between 24 and 26 July at the University of Cambridge and will be observed by experts from across the cyber security industry.

Workforce of the future 

Dr Frank Stajano, founder of Inter-ACE and reader in security and privacy at the University of Cambridge, commented: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’ve been taught at university in a realistic environment, while learning new ones in the process, which will help in nurturing them to become 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.”

Stajano added: “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. 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 cyber and increasing the talent pool in the process.”

Doreen Haywood, Leidos’s senior vice-president for cyber and SIGINT solutions, stated: “Leidos is a strong supporter of STEM activities and recognises its importance in terms of attracting and inspiring cyber security 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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