The University of Southampton

Southampton students battle nation’s best for cyber supremacy

Published: 10 April 2018
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A team of cyber savvy students from the University of Southampton have placed second in the Inter-ACE Challenge, the UK’s biggest cyber security competition for university students.

Laurie Kirkaldy, Josh Curry, David Young and Izzy Whistlecroft – also known as ‘The Hapless Techno Weenies’ from Southampton – brought home a prize of £3,000 after finishing runners-up to the University of Edinburgh in a field of 34 teams, drawn from 18 of the country’s top universities accredited as Academic Centres of Excellence (ACE) in Cyber Security Research.

This is the third consecutive year that Southampton teams have placed in the competition’s top three. Laurie (4th year student, MEng Electrical and Electronic Engineering), Josh (4th year student, MEng Electromechanical Engineering) and Izzy (PhD candidate, Cyber Security) all competed last year. For David (Mathematical Sciences graduate and current PhD candidate, Cyber Security), this marked his third consecutive Inter-ACE appearance.

The competition, supported by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre, is designed to attract the next generation of cyber security talent.

Over two days, the students faced 20 challenges set by experts from the host University of Cambridge and sponsors including Context IS and Palo Alto Networks. The students faced a number of different scenarios, from preventing a hack on a UK city’s infrastructure to a tap on an undersea communications cable. Connected devices such as a children’s toy were also used to demonstrate the impact of hacking techniques.

Now in its third year, Inter-ACE was established to help resolve the vast and growing cyber security skills gap, with an estimated shortfall of 1.8m workers worldwide by 2022. Inter-ACE aims to inspire young tech enthusiasts into the cyber security sector, while also honing the skills of those who already have a strong aptitude for ethical hacking and helping them meet like-minded individuals and potential employers.

Professor Vladimiro Sassone, Director of the Southampton’s Cyber Security Academy, said: “Once again, our students have performed extremely well in a competition that challenges their ability to think and act quickly but precisely to an unexpected range of cyber security threats. Acting as a supervisor during the event, I was also able to see firsthand how well they worked as a team which also says a great deal about the quality of the learning environment at the Cyber Security Academy in Southampton.”

Professor Frank Stajano, Founder of Inter-ACE and Professor of Security and Privacy at the University of Cambridge, said: “It’s no secret that the cyber security industry is suffering from a large and growing skills gap. We must do more to attract a more diverse pool of talent into the field. This is about demonstrating that careers in cyber security not only help to keep your country, your friends and your family safe, but are varied, valued and most of all fun.

“There is still much more to be achieved, but I have been delighted over the last three years to be welcoming a growing number of female participants and contestants from increasingly diverse backgrounds to the two-day competition. We had 18 women competing this year, as opposed to just two when we started! It's working. There is no set profile for a cyber security professional and Inter-ACE contributes to reaching more people with that important message”.

The winning team from Edinburgh will now compete with the best of the USA at C2C –‘Cambridge2Cambridge’, a transatlantic contest jointly organised by MIT and the University of Cambridge, and hosted by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts this summer.

The Southampton team can join them by competing in an online qualifying event.

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