Today, some of the UK’s brightest 12-18 year olds will compete in the National Finals of CyberCenturion, a country-wide cyber defence competition led by global security company Northrop Grumman and Cabinet Office-backed Cyber Security Challenge UK, with support from the US Air Force Association. Battling it out at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), ten teams will compete in a high-pressured, face-to-face challenge to protect a fictional company from vicious cyber-attacks.
The candidates will be tasked with defending a start-up drone-based food delivery service – named ‘Always Food Available’ – using their evolving cyber security skills to identify vulnerabilities in the company’s network and systems, repair the vital issues and maintain the company’s services, while fending off adversaries.
The ten finalist teams are the top performers from a series of intense qualifying rounds which took place over the last six months between more than 100 teams from across the UK and Overseas Territories.
A key element of CyberCenturion’s success is that competitors do not need any prior experience in cyber defence; participants are provided with the training and preparation materials required. This makes the programme accessible and encourages broad participation. Diversity is critical in the profession; as the cyber threat becomes more complex, workforce diversity is important in bringing different perspectives, academic backgrounds, experience and problem-solving approaches to addressing the challenges.
CyberCenturion aims to engage thousands of talented young individuals curious about cyber security and eager to put any existing cyber skills to the test. It mirrors the US CyberPatriot competition, part of a major youth STEM education programme in the US presented by the Northrop Grumman Foundation and created by the US Air Force Association, aimed at inspiring youth to pursue careers in cyber security or other STEM disciplines critical to global security.
The competitors include some of the brightest young minds in STEM from across the UK, from Essex to Edinburgh. This includes Maths Olympiad winners, Gold CREST award recipients and an individual who has written an artificial intelligence programme that can beat humans at chess.
As a national, team-based cyber security contest, CyberCenturion is designed to address the nationwide STEM skills gap by opening up cyber security education to youth groups from every sphere of life; from cadet corps, Scout groups and Girl Guides, to school clubs and community groups. Cyber security association (ISC)2 predicts a shortfall of 1.8 million cyber security professionals by 2022 if current hiring trends continue, highlighting how valuable initiatives like these are, building a diverse cyber workforce, filling the ever-expanding technology skills gap and inspiring the next generation of digital defenders.
The winning team will receive a bundle of technology equipment for their school to help further promote STEM and cyber careers in the school and to provide them with a competitive edge for their future careers. They will also receive trophies and medals, as well as building key networks with individuals in the industry who could help them work towards a future career in cyber.
Andrew Tyler, Chief Executive, Northrop Grumman Europe, said: “There is currently a severe shortage of diverse young people entering careers in STEM subjects, and it is up to industry leaders like Northrop Grumman to help rectify this situation. The CyberCenturion competition is highly relevant today; through this initiative we are helping to inspire and build a diverse cyber workforce to address this global imperative. We are encouraging them to use their skills in a safe and productive way, and to consider a career in the cyber security sector. CyberCenturion is continuing to grow; this year saw more than one hundred teams enter. We believe that in the years to come, we’ll see many of these talented individuals defending the UK, and even global companies from cyber-attacks.
Nigel Harrison, acting COO and Co-Founder at Cyber Security Challenge UK, said: “For the last three years, Northrop Grumman has partnered with us to deliver one of the country’s most successful cyber security competitions for this age group. It’s incredibly important to inspire the next generation of cyberists and encourage them to consider cyber security as a potential career as early as possible. Competitions like this are a great way of achieving this, in a safe and secure environment. CyberCenturion also helps to take cyber out of the classroom; while we have many school teams playing, CyberCenturion is ideal for cadets, Scouts or Guides or even groups of enthusiastic individuals, supported by an adult. We would encourage any young people to give it a try, they could surprise themselves, and us.”
Professor Jeremy Watson CBE, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology said: “We are delighted that Cyber Security Challenge UK and Northrop Grumman have chosen the IET as the venue for this event. We place a high value on STEM education, as the future of engineering and technology relies on the next generation to bring new skills and insights to the industry. Cyber security is still a relatively new sector and although its importance is growing, awareness of the field is often low compared to other engineering disciplines. Initiatives such as CyberCenturion are critical to ensuring we find and nurture talent and develop a task force that will secure our country in the future.”
Registration for the next CyberCenturion competition is now open, click here to register or to find out more.
Cyber Security Challenge UK offers a series of games and competitions for all ages, visit www.cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk to sign up to play today.