Cyber student competition

by Mark Rowe

Some 130 student competitors will pit their skills against one another in a two-day cyber security competition organised and hosted by the University of Cambridge. Now in its third year, the Inter-ACE is supported by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre to attract young minds into careers in the sector. The event has £10,000 in cash prizes and the chance to compete against the best of the USA in ‘Cambridge2Cambridge’, a transatlantic contest later this year.

The 130, organised into 34 teams from 18 UK universities, will face over 20 challenges set by academics at the University of Cambridge and sponsors including Context IS and Palo Alto Networks. The two-day event on March 16 and 17 will close with a dinner at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Inter-ACE will simulate a number of scenarios, including working to prevent a cyber-attack on the infrastructure of a fictional city and the results of a cyber-tap on an undersea data cable. Competitors will develop and hone penetrative testing skills. These include the binary reverse engineering of malware, breaking into a web application such as an online payment system, decoding secure communications and piecing together intercepted data.

Prof Frank Stajano of the University of Cambridge, the founder of Inter-ACE, said “Protecting IT and infrastructure means understanding how it can be attacked. The head of the National Cyber Security Centre, Ciaran Martin, is absolutely right in that a major cyber-attack on the UK is a now matter of “when, not if” and we must recognise that the UK faces an urgent skills shortage. Inter-ACE gives future cyber security professionals the opportunity to test their skills against the best and meet others in their field and future employers. This is about engaging with the next generation of cyber security talent, and raising awareness of this vital, interesting and exciting career choice.

“It’s also about making the good work of cyber security professionals much more visible. Like other initiatives such as NCSC’s CyberFirst programme, the interesting experiences of the University students taking part in this year’s event will help to inspire those currently at school to consider a rewarding career in this field.”

Chris Ensor, Deputy Director for Skills and Growth at the NCSC, said: “The InterACE competition is a fantastic way to encourage bright young minds to hone their cyber knowledge further and meet like minded people.

“The cyber threat is growing, and so making sure that young people have the cyber security skills to help protect us has never been more important. We at the NCSC hope the entrants will be inspired – and can perhaps inspire others – into starting a thrilling career defending the UK and helping make it the safest place to live and work online.”

The competition is sponsored by Microsoft, BT, Palo Alto and Context IS. The 18 universities sending teams are Queen’s University Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, De Montfort, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Imperial College London, the University of Kent, Lancaster, Newcastle, Oxford, Royal Holloway University of London, Southampton, Surrey, University College London, Warwick and York. Visit

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