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GCHQ challenges UK public to defend government from cyber-attacks

Published: 19/09/12

  • New Cyber Security Challenge UK competition will test the ability of UK amateur cyber defenders to protect a simulated government IT system from all forms of online crime
  • Those interested can register here - https://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/registration/

The UK public will be able to test their ability to secure government networks from cyber-attacks as part of the first ever Cyber Security Challenge UK competition designed and run by the Government’s Intelligence Agency, GCHQ. Balancing the Defence will require competitors to manage the risks posed by attacks from hostile states, organised criminal cyber gangs or even individual hackers to a simulated government IT system. It is open to any individuals aged 16 or over, who are not actively working in cyber security.

The Cyber Security Challenge UK began in 2010 as three competitions run by a small group of supporters from industry, government and academia to address a skills gap in the cyber security profession. Now in its third year the Challenge has grown its range of competitions in an attempt to better represent the diverse skills demanded within the profession. Its sponsorship has grown to over 50 organisations from across the cyber security landscape and it now acts as source of advice, support and guidance for anyone interested in a career in cyber security.

Balancing the Defence asks players to analyse a mocked-up network representing that typically found across government departments. They will be asked to look for vulnerabilities that an attacker could exploit, prioritise the threats and, whilst working to a tight budget, suggest a range of defensive controls,  both technical and policy based, to reduce the risk to the network. The competition will take place from Monday 1st – Monday 8th October 2012 during which time the candidates will be fully briefed on the scenario, and will be asked to submit a report with their proposed security solution.

Karl, the GCHQ architect of the competition said: "There is no such thing as a completely secure system - businesses will always need to balance where to spend a limited budget, to manage risks and provide opportunities. This is complicated by the need to ensure systems remain usable and continue to deliver business benefits. Security shouldn't be seen as a negative by the workforce. This is why risk analysis is such as important and much sought after skill in cyber security."

“Cyber Security Challenge UK has proved itself a very accomplished mechanism for finding new talent. We hope this competition will uncover those who have the vital mix of technical ability and business awareness to make tough decisions in the best interest of an organisation. At GCHQ we are committed to finding and developing the new cyber security skills in the UK and these are the skills sets employers including ourselves are most interested in.”

Stephanie Daman, CEO, Cyber Security Challenge UK said: “Balancing the Defence is part of our new Risk Analysis and Policy Stream which puts our candidates  in the shoes of the professionals and makes them answer some difficult questions – Where do the biggest threats come from? Are there some risks I have to accept? What impact will my changes have on the organisation? These are questions which cyber security professionals grapple with every day and answering them requires  an aptitude that isn’t easy to identify from traditional CVs and job interviews. We need a new approach if we are to find people with these skills in the numbers that the industry desperately needs. No organisation is better placed than GCHQ to help us deliver this.”

The winners from this virtual competition will be invited to the next stage of the Cyber Security Challenge UK. This is a face-to face competition, developed by Orange with Prodrive, the British motorsport and automotive engineering group, and held at the Banbury racing track on Saturday 24th November 2012.

At the face to face, 30 candidates taken from the GCHQ competition and a second virtual competition (Dtex System’s Insider threat game) will come up against a real life motorsport set-up, complete with Aston Martin Racing car, pit crew, technical team and a complex ICT infrastructure which connects them all. Their task will be to deliver a practical security solution that protects the team’s IP and confidential information from its rivals.

Winners selected at this event will then be invited to attend the Challenge’s Masterclass and Awards weekend on 9th – 10th March 2013 where they will have the chance to compete for a range of career enhancing prizes. Last year’s prize pot amounted to over a £100,000 worth of bursaries, university courses, internships, training qualifications and certifications.


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