On 10th August 2017, the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom’s facilities were transformed in to a hacker’s paradise as Defence Cyber School took over the Technology School Artillery Hall to host the latest round of the Cyber Security Challenge UK face to face competition.
HMGCC sponsored the event and created a pop-up network for 25 contestants to demonstrate their cyber-skills in a bid to earn a place at the Challenge Masterclass, future jobs in the industry and an opportunity to help protect the UK from the threat cyber presents.
Cyber Security Challenge UK are a Cabinet Office supported charity seeking to develop the UK’s cyber talent pipeline. The 25 contestants were all amateurs and travelled from as far away as Glasgow; the youngest, Edward Ouzman, was just 15 years old. Each had progressed through a number of online challenges to make the Face-to-Face selection. For most, the opportunity to attend the competition at the Defence Academy provided their first experience of a military establishment.
Following welcome presentations and the obligatory H&S brief, the Artillery Hall offered an initial wow factor before a curry dinner was served in the shadow of an AS90. It was not just the youngster who was in awe of the equipment on show in the Technology School facility and all visitors took the opportunity for a couple of selfie shots. As might be expected of a room full of hackers, the draw of the simulation centre was also strong and considerable interest was noted in the attack helicopter simulator, with several shouts of “can I have a go in that?!”
Well-fed and eager to get started, BAE Systems Ltd AI and Cyber arm provided a Capture The Flag activity to get the competitors warmed up for the main event and give an opportunity for the teams to start to gel and work together; a key assessment requirement of the main competition to follow. It did not take long for the high calibre of cyber skills within the group to become apparent with one team taking an early and uncatchable lead. 2 hours later with the Academy shrouded in darkness the claxon sounded to end the game.
A wide range of cyber skills had been demonstrated by all competitors and the judges were impressed with the pace of progress through the challenge activity; it was team Pack Howitzer who ruled the evening though with a score of 2600, obliterating the closest rivals 1900 score. This was a real statement of intent from the team and threw down the gauntlet for the formal competition the next day.
After an overnight stay and hearty breakfast in the Officer’s Mess, the competitors began to assemble in the Artillery Hall for the main cyber challenge. Lead by a crack team from HMGCC the challenge was due to take place over 5 hours and sought to test a wide range of cyber related skills and equally as important, interpersonal and team working skills.
In order to make best use of the fantastic setting provided through use of the Artillery Hall, HMGCC themed their competition around the concept of trialling a sophisticated, Internet of Things (IoT) connected, soldier technology and a nefarious hacktivist group hijacking the system through a man-in-the-middle attack. Competitors lost contact with the soldiers and then raced against each other and the clock to remediate the situation by solving a range of puzzles and ciphers to test contestants cryptography and problem solving skills; a lock-picking challenge by Maj Tom Mouat, Defence’s own simulation expert and locksmith, proved particularly popular with all as they learnt how to pick a padlock and key press.
Competition during the day was fierce and the concentration of candidates throughout was incredible. Spurious activity met the dying minutes of the competition as groups fought to finish off the last few challenges to gain valuable extra points. Despite the previous evenings promise, Team Pack Howitzer were pipped to the post and the winning team was Challenger 2: Andy Grabowski, Caroline Haigh and Io Swift Wolf.
The challenge also selects a number of candidates that will progress to National Masterclass in November. The assessors had a tough time making their final selection of competitors to progress but finally choose Mark Brown, Michael Carr, Chris Hatton, Zul Sadiq, David Baker, David Orelowitz, Daniel Nash, Phillip Whitehead, Joshua Green, Peter Abay, Caroline Haigh and Edward Ouzman who is just 15 year’s old!