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Cyber Security Challenge UK announces first University Challenge

Published: 25/01/13

  • First-of-its-kind competition pitches UK Computer Science Departments against each other to test their skills
    • Universities will develop ‘cipher’ code breaking puzzles for each other to crack
    • The university that successfully cracks the most codes will be crowned ‘Cyber Security Challenge UK: University Cipher Champion’

Some of the UK’s leading Universities for Computer Science are taking part in a unique code-breaking competition as part of this year’s Cyber Security Challenge UK. Four Computer Science departments have accepted the challenge to develop their own cipher – a puzzle based on encrypted messages – that will be released to other participating universities and Challenge candidates to break. The four-week virtual tournament will start on Monday 21st January with a new cipher released each week and is designed to inspire students who are particularly interested in entering cyber security careers and practising their skills. It will also act as a proof of concept for a series of university-on-university competitions that the Cyber Security Challenge is looking to run in the future.

The University Cipher Challenge is being coordinated by the Cyber Security Challenge UK and PwC as part of their strategy to engage with the education community and highlight and develop talent in the UK’s student population. A scoring system has been developed by cyber security professionals at PwC and each university will be marked in three categories: ingenuity of cipher design; successful completion of another university’s cipher; and least number of “cracks” by other Challenge candidates.

Participating universities include:

  • Edinburgh Napier University – The only Scottish university, its computer science department recently launched a part-time MSc in Advanced Security and Cybercrime, allowing those in full-time employment to develop skills in cybercrime, forensics and computer security.


  • University of Birmingham – Computer Science at Birmingham dates back to the late 1950s; the School of Computer Science became one of the first academic departments in the UK to undertake research and teaching in this field. The department ranks within the top 20 UK university Computer Science departments*


  • University of Bristol – In 2012, the University of Bristol was one of eight UK universities awarded “Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research” status by GCHQ. The department ranks within the top 20 UK university Computer Science departments*


  • University College London – In 2012, UCL was one of eight UK universities awarded “Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research” status by GCHQ. The department ranks within the top 20 UK university Computer Science departments*

 (*according to The Complete University Guide: league table for computer science 2013)


Stephanie Daman, CEO, Cyber Security Challenge UK:

“The University Cipher Challenge is something completely new. This is the first time that universities have been asked to develop their own cipher, putting the skills of their students in competition with those from a rival.

The UK has a world-class academic base in cyber security and this tournament represents a great opportunity for existing Challenge candidates and new players to test the hard, code breaking skills and out-the-box thinking that the cyber security profession requires. We are running this as a pilot with the ambition to encourage more university departments to take part in 2013/14 as we embark on a dedicated education programme featuring university based cyber camps and a set of competitions specifically designed for students.”

Andrew Miller, Government & Public Sector Cyber Security Director, PwC:

 “As the largest professional services firm, we advise many organisations on the growing number of cyber security issues on a daily basis. The cyber security landscape is constantly developing and the research conducted at world-leading universities is important to us in maintaining an advantage. We were keen to support the Challenge’s collaboration with the academic sector by judging entries for the University Cipher Challenge. The tournament is a fantastic way to identify and develop the cyber security professionals and leaders of the future who will be integral to securing the success of UK PLC.”

Professor Bill Buchanan, Director of Edinburgh Napier’s Centre for Distributed Computing and Security:

 “There is currently a high demand from both the private and the public sector for multi-skilled graduates. Companies need adaptable employees who are capable of analysing critical information from a cyber-attack one day and the next, interpreting the sentiments of twitter feeds. This challenge is the perfect exercise to stimulate students to seek solutions to problems in new and innovative ways.”

Dr Tom Chothia from the University of Birmingham, School of Computer Sciences:

"Our online bank accounts, mobile phone voice mails and personal information are all under threat from cyber attacks. The Cyber Security Challenge will help us inspire and train the next generation of cyber security experts, who will be our best defense against these kinds of attacks."

Nigel Smart, Professor of Cryptology at the University of Bristol:

"Cyber Security challenges are a great way of getting people to notice that cyber security is a really important area. Indeed it is going to be one of the growth areas in the coming decade and we need to encourage as many as possible to consider this as a possible career path. Not only from the technical (Computer Science) side, but we also need mathematicians, sociologists, psychologists, lawyers and public policy experts to consider the great challenges we are going to face as the century progresses."

Dr Nicolas Courtois, a senior lecturer in UCL Computer Science:

"At UCL we believe that research should be competitive, experimental and rooted in real-life problems. Teaching a responsible and ethical approach to code breaking is a key part of training the next generation of security professionals and we spare no effort to make sure that our students have both the practical skills and the necessary expertise to solve any problem they face.

"We have been able to integrate this year's competition into the curriculum for the UCL Applied Cryptography course so that students' contribution will be graded and count as coursework. The UCL team will also include PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. We expect that the spirit of this competition will enable our students to learn a lot in a stimulating and competitive environment and will have a lasting influence on their further research and professional careers."


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