What to expect from UK Cyber 9/12: a view from the judge's panel

Sonia Kumar reflects on her experience judging the 2020 competition.


Sonia Kumar

2/18/20203 min read

Sonia Kumar — Principal Manager, Cyber Defence Incident Management (Vodafone Group Cybersecurity) — is one of the judges for this year's competition, having made her debut on a judging panel in 2019. Here, she gives her thoughts on why industry needs more cyber security experts, what inspired her most during the 2019 Cyber 9/12 strategy challenge, and what our 2020 teams can do to give a top performance when facing the judge's panel.

"My job as a Principal Manager in Vodafone Group Cybersecurity operations is to lead Vodafone’s collective response to global cyber incidents. Specifically, I lead a team of cyber security incident managers who are dedicated to the task of protecting Vodafone’s customers and helping society remain secure and resilient in a world of increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks. Being part of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI), alongside the organisation’s commitment to enhancing the lives of citizens, makes Vodafone an attractive target for cyber-attacks. Vodafone therefore recognises the importance in identifying future cyber security talent, especially future strategists. From my experience as a cyber defender, I know that the cyber security community of tomorrow needs to be a balance of both technical and non-technical minds, which is why I am taking time out of my working routine for the second consecutive year to support UK Cyber 9/12 as a judge.

Sonia Kumar. Principal Manager, Cyber Defence Incident Management. Vodafone Group Cyber Security)

Sonia Kumar headshot
Sonia Kumar headshot

2019 was my inaugural year as a judge and I was so impressed with the calibre of competitors and teams that I had the privilege to support. Cyber 9/12 gave me great confidence that the UK has a great pool of talent from which to fill the critical shortage of cyber security professionals. I loved the passion that I saw and felt during the competition and was glad to see diverse teams from all over the country. The atmosphere last year was energised and vibrant and it was evident how much work the teams and coaches had invested in producing their oral and written cyber briefs.

Following on from 2019, I have some advice to give to UK Cyber 9/12's 2020 participants. First and foremost, it is really important to read, understand and follow the brief(s). If you get this part wrong, then it won’t be the most favourable start for you. Teams will have received their first scenario packs by now, so work together and work meticulously on preparation. Preparation and research will be key to a good start. Think about the scenario and the different evolutionary paths that it could take. Think about why the event is called 'Cyber 9/12'. What are you helping to protect against? You are senior advisors to government and industry, so I want the information presented to me to be clear and without any ambiguity.

Remember, you are working as a team and should therefore distribute the work evenly. In the cyber security arena, success is not gained by individuals acting alone nor individuals seeking credit. Success is very much a team game and I want to see that throughout the competition and across all teams. Teams will receive continuous feedback from me and my fellow judges and my advice is to exploit that feedback as best you can. Not many people get the opportunity to get so much (free!) advice from so many senior cyber leaders, so don’t feel slighted if you hear something that you don’t like — your judges know what they are talking about! Not only will I be judging against the options presented to me, I will be looking for attributes that I look for in my own Vodafone team members such as team interaction and cohesiveness, presentation skills and team resilience. I follow the 'Spirit of Vodafone' and would advise you to do the same: we earn customer loyalty. We create the future. We experiment, learn fast. We get it done, together.

The competition will be exhausting but, as serious as the advice given above might sound, you will learn so much and you really will have a lot of fun. Take time to network and time to build your portfolio of cyber security connections and don’t forget to show support to your fellow competitors. The venue is amazing especially the revolving floors… Make the most of this fantastic opportunity and remember that everyone who is part of UK Cyber 9/12 — whether the organising team, sponsors, judges or coaches — is really happy that you have decided to be part of this memorable event."