The National Cyber Security Centre welcomes student cyber policy and strategy competition champions

Winning student team in national cyber competition visit the National Cyber Security Centre as industry & government says the cyber workforce must become more diverse to protect the nation.


Robert Black

3/25/20243 min read

Winning team from UCL at the NCSC
Winning team from UCL at the NCSC

The winners of the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge, a team of four students from University College London, visited the National Cyber Security Centre on 11th March to meet with cyber security experts and senior leaders. They learnt about how the UK government is protecting the nation from cyber attacks, disinformation and election interference alongside receiving some of their competition prizes, courtesy of Rapid 7.

The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is an annual cyber policy and strategy competition where students compete in developing policy recommendations tackling a fictional cyber catastrophe. Each team consists of four students acting as senior government advisors, providing a unique opportunity to experience what it is like to be in positions of responsibility such as the directors at the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

It is the first non-government funded initiative to partner with the NCSC’s CyberFirst programme. Through the competition, students have the unique opportunity to interact with expert mentors and high-level cyber professionals while developing valuable skills in policy analysis and presentation.

Experts across industry and government believe there is a critical need to grow diversity within the cyber security workforce. The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is one attempt to address this. Chris Ensor, Deputy Director for Cyber Growth at the NCSC recognises “Diversity plays an important part in cyber security, and through CyberFirst programme we are finding some amazing talent. Partnering with UK Cyber 9/12 enables us to reach beyond the technical into areas of policy and strategy; cyber security really needs all the talents to solve the challenges we face. I congratulate the winners and enjoyed meeting with and welcoming the winning team to our Headquarters in London to learn more about life at the NCSC.

In this year ’s competition there was a realistic, and perhaps ominous, hypothetical scenario for the students to grapple with. There were a number of potential crises brewing. Leaked political documents carry allegations involving sleaze and cash for questions. Criminal activity in the Netherlands suggests a pending cyber attack whilst Thames Water has already started seeing evidence of malicious activity. A cabinet minister is denying alleged derogatory behaviour towards her staff and, on top of all this, there is a general election in less than 48 hours! The fake crisis is highly pertinent. This year, more voters than ever will head to the polls to vote in 64 countries across the globe. That’s 49% of the world’s population. The need to distinguish fact from deep fakes becomes only more critical . The setting is fictional but the possibility is real. And the country needs people who know how to resolve such crises.

Over two days competing at the BT Tower in London, student teams faced a panel of judges consisting of cyber security experts. They presented their action plan to avert the crisis and in turn, received a vicious grilling from the other side of the boardroom. What do they advise ministers to say to the press? Is London about to lose its water supply? How do they reassure an increasingly panicked population? What information is fake and what is real? Can the election go ahead or is this going to undermine our democracy?

The student winners were given the opportunity to come visit the nerve-centre of the UK’s cyber security efforts and meet with the staff whose duty it is to keep the UK safe.

Here they learnt more about the various activities to keep people secure online, to ensure our society remains resilient & safe from cyber attack and that our elections can continue to be free & fair without interference from hostile actors. During the visit, they met representatives from the cyber policy, incident management and communications teams. The day finished with an opportunity to sit down with several directors to discuss the challenges faced by the NCSC.

It was a unique opportunity for the students to learn more about what is happening at the heart of the UK’s efforts to secure cyberspace and meet with senior leaders driving the policy agenda in this space.

Thanks must go to our hosts at the NCSC for the day, the various teams that came to speak with the students as well as the Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, Chris Ensor, Director of Resilience and Future Technology, Jonathon Ellison OBE and Director of Operations, Paul Chichester MBE for joining the students during the visit.