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Future UK Cyber Security Stars Tackle Vulnerable Cryptocurrency in Latest Challenges


On Friday, Her Majesty’s Government Communications Centre (HMGCC) and leading science and engineering company QinetiQ hosted the latest Cyber Security Challenge UK Face-to-Face competition at QinetiQ’s headquarters in Farnborough.

Cyber Security Challenge

The competition saw 28 code-breaking amateurs from across the country ethically hack the cryptocurrency wallets of customers from a fictitious bank. The challenges, which put contestants’ cryptography, problem-solving, automation and scripting skills to the test, included breaking into digital vaults and delivering presentations to expectant board members.

With crypto wallets making headlines in the news recently and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin reaching incredible worth, it is no wonder that Action Fraud found that cryptocurrency fraud created more than £2 million of losses this summer. It is therefore crucial that the systems and services people use are safe, secure and tested by highly skilled cyber security experts before people invest and store money in them thereby ensuring a high enough level of protection.

To highlight these contemporary issues, HMGCC and QinetiQ have worked in partnership to develop one of the most challenging face-to-face competitions in Cyber Security Challenge UK history as validated by HMGCC interns – who road-tested the challenges while on placement there within their NCSC CyberFirst bursary programme. Teams pulled from the technical minds of experienced staff and graduates from both companies created the digital challenges for the contestants to battle their way through on the day, and HMGCC lent their manufacturing skills to create a vault to be cracked as well.

The scenario in particular was based on a mock company QQGCC – a new cryptocurrency bank – which, in a move of confidence, publicly listed the encrypted wallets of each customer account. To avoid the high-profile security errors of other companies before them, QQGCC allowed customers to choose their own system to hide the key that would ultimately give people access to the account. With each customer choosing a unique method to conceal their account’s encryption key, candidates were tasked with fool-proofing each system by attempting to hack their way into the accounts and discover which character’s money would be at risk.

“We really wanted to push the contestants and seriously test their skill sets. Digital wallets and cryptocurrencies may not feel like money, but they have genuine real-world value that needs to be protected,” said Ashleigh Curnow from HMGCC’s Recruitment Team. “Supporting competitions and initiatives with Cyber Security Challenge UK and QinetiQ provides a brilliant platform for uncovering and nurturing cyber security talent while also highlighting the need for due diligence to be carried out with digital security. We’ve been really impressed with the skills and determination we have seen from all of the competitors and we are excited to see that the UK is continuing to develop the engineers that we need.”

This latest event also acted as the final semi-final round of Cyber Security Challenges UK’s 2018 Masterclass competition, with the top performers earning a place at the Masterclass Grand Final at Barclays in Canary Wharf in November. In order to qualify, for the face-to-face competition each contestant had to pass rigorous online tests which created a diverse group of people taking part, including seven people aged 30 or over and nearly half of the contestants aged 18 or under.

“It has been amazing to see the number of talented and skilled individuals taking part in this competition. The great thing about these challenges is it helps demonstrate to people how many career paths and opportunities are open to them. Cyber security is a vibrant and exciting sector to work in and we are pleased to showcase that with the help of our expert cyber security specialists, ” said Bryan Lillie, Chief Technical Officer Cyber Security at QinetiQ. “All of the contestants in today’s competition displayed the skills we would look for when hiring talent for our own security teams. Congratulations to the winners, for a well-deserved result.”

The winning team, Great Hyperlobic Omnicognate Neutron Wrangler, was comprised of:

  • Callum, 17, an A-level student from London who also played Cyber Discovery this year
  • Daniel, 17, an A-level student from Stoke-on-Trent
  • Yousef, 18, an intern from St Albans
  • Edmund, 18, an A-level student from London
  • Laura, 37, an IT Technical Support professional (non-cyber security related) from Lincolnshire
Cyber Security Challenge Winners 2018

The winning team with James Willis, MD for Cyber, Information and Training at QinetiQ.

Colin Lobley, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK added: “It was great to see that the latest challenge with QinetiQ and HMGCC not only attracted young, talented school and university students, but also people looking for career changes too. The cyber security industry has the need for a range of skills, from computer experts to psychologists, communicators and policy-makers. What we are looking for is those with an inquisitive mind. It is therefore crucial that we continue to partner with forward-thinking organisations such as HMGCC and QinetiQ to identify and inform people about what is on offer when choosing a career in cyber security.”

Those interested in learning more about a career in cyber security should attend the upcoming Cyber Re:coded event which is taking place in Tobacco Dock in London from October 15-16. During the two-day event there will be talks from security professionals, industry leaders and interactive workshops aimed at showing the large number of career opportunities on offer in the security industry. So, whether you want to spot and analyse the latest threats; design resilient digital cities, cars or games; stop counterfeiting; reverse-engineer mobile apps; shape new laws; profile cyber criminals; or develop cyber services in the age of AI and Quantum computing, the cyber security industry needs you!

For more information on Cyber Security Challenge UK and the work it is doing, please visit: https://www.cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/.