Cyber security aces tackle cryptocurrency challenge

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

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 delivering presentations to expectant board members and breaking into digital vaults.

With crypto wallets making headlines in the news recently and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin reaching incredible worth, it is perhaps no surprise that Action Fraud reported that cryptocurrency fraud created more than £2 million of losses this summer. Thus, the call for highly skilled cyber security experts. 

To highlight these contemporary issues, HMGCC and QinetiQ have developed “one of the most challenging face-to-face competitions” in Cyber Security Challenge UK history, as validated by the HMGCC interns who road-tested the challenges while on the NCSC CyberFirst bursary programme. Teams pulled from staff and graduates from both companies created the digital challenges for contestants to battle through, and HMGCC lent their manufacturing skills to create a vault to be cracked.

The scenario 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,” said Ashleigh Curnow from HMGCC’s Recruitment Team. “Digital wallets and cryptocurrencies may not feel like money, but they have genuine real-world value that needs to be protected. 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 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.

“It has been amazing to see the number of talented and skilled individuals taking part in this competition,” said Bryan Lillie, Chief Technical Officer Cyber Security at QinetiQ. “The great thing about these challenges is it helps demonstrate to people how many career paths and opportunities are open to them. All of the contestants in today’s competition displayed the skills we would look for when hiring talent for our own security teams.”

Colin Lobley, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK, said: “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 to 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 the field should attend the upcoming Cyber Re:coded event, taking place in Tobacco Dock in London from October 15-16. There will be talks from security professionals and interactive workshops aimed at showing the large number of career opportunities on offer in the industry.

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