They were hacking a bank in a gamified competition run by an obscure government organisation that supports the intelligence services, and five-strong team the “Great Hyperbolic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler” was not playing around.
The cybersecurity team, comprising four teenagers and one 37-year-old IT support professional, came out on top Friday in the semi-finals of the Cyber Security Challenges UK Masterclass competition.
The event, which saw 28 cybersecurity amateurs go head-to-head in a simulated cyber-attack on a financial institute, was hosted by Her Majesty’s Government Communication Centre (HMGCC) and science and engineering company QinetiQ at the latter’s HQ.
(HMGCC is a small group tasked with providing electronics and software to support the communication needs of the British Government: think “pioneering products, custom one-offs and very special builds“, or about as close to James Bond’s Q Division as it gets.)
The Cyber Security Challenge UK is a series of national competitions that gamify cyber security skill set challenges, with the aim of drawing in amateur coders and video gamers to the cyber security profession.
A mock company was created for the challenge: QQGCC, a new cryptocurrency bank that has tried to foster consumer confidence by publicly listing the encrypted wallets of all its customers.
Each customer in the mock bank had chosen a unique method to conceal their accounts encryption key. The candidates in the challenge were tasked with hacking into these accounts, in the same way a cyber security red team tests for vulnerabilities.
Ashleigh Curnow from HMGCC’s Recruitment Team said: “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.”
Cyber Security Challenge
In order to reach the semi-final each contestant had to undertake online challenges that test their cyber security skill. The competition is open to all ages, but nearly half the contestants were under eighteen, while only seven were aged thirty or over.
The Cyber Security Challenge UK started in 2010 with the aim to create a series of virtual and face-to-face challenges to draw out the best talent for the UK cyber security industry.
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Bryan Lillie Chief Technical Officer Cyber Security at QinetiQ said: “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.”
Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler
All of the team names in this round of the competition were named after computers from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Great Hyperlobic Omni-Cognate Neutron Wrangler (a supercomputer in the cult book known to be a “fiendish disputer”) comprised:
- Callum, 17, an A-level student from London
- 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
Colin Lobley, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK said in an emailed statement: “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,” he added.