UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge: For the Brave-Hearted, Not the Faint-Hearted

Dr Tim Stevens recaps what it's like to coach a team competing in the UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge.


Dr Time Stevens

2/18/20202 min read

The UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is a unique opportunity for students to experience the complex world of cybersecurity decision-making. Its immense value lies in its attention to the political and strategic aspects of cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a technical endeavour, for sure, but high-level decisions of national cybersecurity are made in government and civil service meeting rooms. Cybersecurity, as with all forms of security, is political – Cyber 9/12 confronts this truth up-front and centre.

Cyber 9/12 gives students a flavour – under pressure – of how to develop courses of action in the face of an unfolding cybersecurity scenario and how to pitch these possible courses of action to government decision-makers. It helps them understand how to balance the competing interests of multiple stakeholders in situations of great uncertainty. Crucially, it equips them with the skills, insights and experiences essential to developing proactive cybersecurity professionals across government and beyond.

As coach of the King’s College London Cyber 9/12 team, I have seen first-hand how students need to be forensic, critical and creative in response to the intelligence reports (scenario packs) provided to them as the simulation unfolds.

Dr Tim Stevens. Kings College, London

Dr Tim Stevens headshot
Dr Tim Stevens headshot

It is your task to filter the deluge of data, intelligence, official memoranda, commercial reports, news items, social media and rumours. What can we plausibly assemble from this diverse information about the situation as it stands? What will happen next if we don’t act? What will happen if we do? How should we calibrate our responses in light of domestic and international political concerns? What are we missing?

As with ‘real-world’ cybersecurity, trust nothing and expect the unexpected. The scenario design team are devious and will happily distract you with red herrings and misleading correlations!

None of this is easy. You can expect significant ambiguity, deliberate obfuscation, incomplete data, false trails and fake news, not to mention frustration and late nights. From these you will build a set of policy recommendations to take to your bureaucratic bosses. They are short of time; how will you communicate complex ideas to them, whilst cutting through the inherent uncertainty of the cybersecurity environment?

On the day itself, you will present your initial findings and proposals to the judges. This can be daunting but, if you are well-prepared, this is your opportunity to demonstrate your analytical and presentational skills to the panel. They will want to know that you have thought about the scenario deeply and have left no stone unturned. They will assess you on your ability to synthesise and process the information given to you. Senior officials will demand accurate, actionable advice and it is your job to provide it.

If this doesn’t excite you, you may be in the wrong competition! If you love a challenge, then UK Cyber 9/12 is the place to be. You will make friends while developing skills, teamwork and confidence. Cybersecurity requires young professionals with the courage and adaptability to make difficult decisions based on imperfect evidence. Cyber 9/12 helps meet this profound need through people like you. Good luck!