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Tomorrow’s cyber elite return to University of Cambridge for Inter-ACE cyber security challenge

by Brian Sims

Over 130 competitors from 18 of the UK’s leading cyber security universities will pit their skills against one another in a two-day cyber security competition organised by the University of Cambridge. Now in its third year, the popular Inter-ACE competition is supported by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre and specifically designed to attract the best young minds into careers in the sector.

Up for grabs is £10,000 in cash prizes and the opportunity to compete against the best of the USA in ‘Cambridge2Cambridge’, a transatlantic contest to be held later this year. Organised into 34 teams from 18 UK universities, the 130 competitors will face over 20 challenges set by experts from the University of Cambridge and sponsors including Context IS and Palo Alto Networks.

The two-day event, taking place at the University of Cambridge on Friday 16 March and Saturday 17 March, will culminate in a ceremony dinner at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Inter-ACE will simulate a number of scenarios, including working to prevent a cyber attack on the infrastructure of a fictional city and the results of a successful tap on an undersea data cable. Competitors will develop and hone their penetrative testing skills. These skills include the binary reverse engineering of malware, breaking into a web application such as an online payment system, decoding secure communications and piecing together intercepted data.

Urgent skills shortage

Professor Frank Stajano of the University of Cambridge (and the founder of Inter-ACE) said: “Protecting IT and infrastructure means understanding how it can be attacked. Ciaran Martin, the head of the NCSC, is absolutely right in that a major cyber attack on the UK is a now matter of ‘When, not if’ and we must recognise that the UK faces an urgent skills shortage.”

Stajano added: “Inter-ACE gives future cyber security professionals the opportunity to test their skills against the best and meet others in their field as well as potential future employers. This is about engaging with the next generation of cyber security talent and raising awareness of this vital, interesting and exciting career choice. It’s also about making the good work of cyber security professionals much more visible. Like other initiatives such as the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme, the interesting experiences of the university students taking part in this year’s event will help to inspire those currently at school to consider a rewarding career in this field.”

Cyber threat is growing

Chris Ensor, deputy director for skills and growth at the NCSC, commented: “The Inter-ACE competition is a fantastic way in which to encourage bright young minds to hone their cyber knowledge further and meet like-minded people. The cyber threat is growing, and so it follows that making sure young people have the cyber security skills to help protect us has never been more important. We at the NCSC hope the entrants will be inspired – and can perhaps inspire others – to start a thrilling career defending the UK and helping to make it the safest place in which to live and work online.”

The Inter-ACE competition is sponsored by Microsoft, BT, Palo Alto and Context IS. The 18 universities sending teams to Inter-ACE 2018 are Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Birmingham, the University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, De Montfort University, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, Imperial College London, the University of Kent, Lancaster University, Newcastle University, the University of Oxford, Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Southampton, the University of Surrey, University College London, the University of Warwick and the University of York.

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