Investing in Cybersecurity's Future: The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge

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The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is an annual competition under the Atlantic Council umbrella to bring forward the next-generation of strategic policy leaders to face the future cyber security challenges.

This year, 2021, marks the event’s fourth year, and it is an honour and a privilege for me to return as a member of the Organisation Committee and as a Judge of this worldwide recognised competition, which I have served since its inception. In addition, Internet Pioneer Farsight CEO Dr. Paul Vixie will deliver a keynote for the event.

All these years have been challenging! Yet we have had a great team of volunteers that strongly believe in the cause. They dedicate endless hours of their personal time, with considerable support from their employers, to deliver the highest quality experience to the event's competitors – the university students across the country.

The Need for Cybersecurity Talent

All of us who volunteer for this event are on a personal mission. Today is a difficult time for the cybersecurity industry – we face both the exponentially increasing complexity of the eco-systems as well as drastically decreasing understanding how to defend them effectively, as well as a shortage of skills, and, most importantly, a shortage of ideas. All of these reasons and more – calls for new talents in the industry.

This is why, when putting together the competition, we put a lot of effort into providing the multi-disciplinary students’ teams, who are comprised of members who have both technical or non-technical backgrounds, with a challenging experience and a deeper understanding of the challenges that strategy and policy decision makers face in time of a cyber conflict or a nation-wide cyber crisis.

We have developed competition scenarios that facilitate both a learning experience and competitive challenge so that teams face and respond to a very realistic and evolving cyberattack – they need to analyze the magnitude of the risks and the credibility of the threats, and then propose effective and achievable mitigating policies and long-term strategies to the expert judges panel.

The scenario evolves through three judging rounds over two days. The final round is for the finalists to present in front of a panel of senior cybersecurity leaders as well as all competitors.

For the students, presenting to the panel of judges resembles the experience of presenting to the HM Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister during a critical time for the Nation. The policy recommendations aim to steer the United Kingdom’s direction through the crisis as well as potentially have wider international implications.

The judges, even though they themselves are not Cabinet Ministers, are senior government and private sector figures, recognised leaders and deep forward thinkers that contribute significantly to our understanding of cyber policy and cyber strategy, even internationally. Their questions and feedback help the students recognise and understand the fundamental challenges we all have in cyber space, and require well thought through mid- and long-term solutions based on the policy and strategy development.

During my past four years serving on the event, I have also learned a lot! No one can afford to solve the cyber problem alone. I have met great teams of very experienced people from many different cyber fields: competitors, judges, dedicated org committee peers. All came from many different backgrounds – ranging from very technical offensive cyber to the exemplary understanding of international strategy and policy development. It has been an honour and a humbling experience to learn from them – for that I thank them all.

On a personal note, I recently joined Farsight Security, because we both truly believe in the same mission to make the internet a safer place for everyone. For this reason, we share, support, and sponsor the cause of the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge to foster the next generation of the strategic policy thinkers. And we wish all the competitors to have a great experience, learn as much as you can, find new contacts, and set yourself on the great path in a very interesting, exciting, and challenging field of Cyber.

Boris Taratine is a Principal Architect for Farsight Security, Inc..

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