A Week (well nearly...) in the Life of a Cyber 9 / 12 Organising Team member

Rob Black discusses what it's like to run a UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge finals event.


Robert Black

2/18/20205 min read

Monday 10 February 2020

Just finished my day job and it's time to focus on the Cyber 9/12 UK Strategy Challenge. It’s a week to the finals and the excitement is building, but there is still quite a bit of work to be done. All 17 teams have submitted their situation assessments, so I advise the marking team they can get started, but must remember to do my bit, too!

A quick phone call with Cyber 9/12 UK Strategy Challenge Director because one of the sponsors has offered a fantastic prize for some of the students. Now, to work out how to make the logistics work because we need to check a few issues – Immigration Law, who would have thought?!

Time for a quick bite to eat before reviewing the second stage of the scenario pack, which will be given to the successful semi-finalists at the end of Day One. We’ve got some really exciting angles to the scenario this year and have been working on it for over four months. However, recent events are beginning to echo some aspects of the scenario written back in November/December time..... it's always interesting to see reality play out like we predicted. Another quick call with the Director and we decide it's worth having a chat with the Scenario Lead on Tuesday evening to determine if we need to revise the scenario a week from the competition. Not ideal!

Robert Black. Former Deputy Director & current Director, UK Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge

Rob headshot
Rob headshot

Tuesday 11 February 2020

A lunchtime call with the Director. We have a big debate about flower displays for the VIP Dinner - all the big issues! We also need to provide caterers with final numbers and dietary requirements. I spend a long time fighting with Excel.

Have a quick dinner before heading into a call with the Director and Scenario Lead to debate the second and third stages of the scenario. We decide we need to revise and refocus a couple of themes so they don’t correlate too much with the real world.... all will be revealed to the students next week! I hope they appreciate the subtle touches to the scenario. We work longer than planned... in fact by the time we hang up it's nearly midnight – oops!

Wednesday 12 February

I’m chasing confirmation from a couple of the industry and government subject matter experts who are going to be judges during the competition. We have a fascinating variety of judges from UK government policy experts through to industry leaders in cyber operations and response. It’s important to balance the judging panels to ensure a good spread of experts for each of the competing teams.

I call the Director on the way to a work meeting and provide an update on the number of attendees. We are getting very close on headcount but think we should just have enough wiggle room - I think this could be the biggest wiggle we have done yet!

Wednesday evening means it’s time for the Organising Committee’s weekly call. A lot of people are otherwise engaged tonight, which is not ideal a week before the event. Not to worry - most have advised of their actions or sent updates. We are a few days out and it feels like everything is falling into place.

After the call, I run through some outstanding tasks with the Scenario Lead, before a quick chat with the Director to confirm we’re under the final headcount. Then I draft a couple of emails for some judges finalising logistics and start allocating judging panels to different rounds. I think that’s it for now.... until the next scenario pack is ready for review.

It’s gone 1130pm and I think about heading to bed...... then I remember I still haven’t started marking the student Situation Reports.... It’s a job for tomorrow!

Just before I head to bed for the night, I suddenly realise I owe the Director another phone call..... we haven’t set a contingency plan for Coronavirus. I review the NHS guidance and will ask BT for more hand sanitisers around the competition space. The national guidance remains means we can push ahead with the competition..... phew. Let's hope nothing changes before Monday.

Thursday 13 February

Today is a day of lectures peppered with emails and questions from different sponsor organisations asking whether they can swap judges because of pressing work commitments. We do our best to juggle the different requirements as the judges are kindly giving of their time. We get confirmation that we have a senior FCO representative confirmed to talk at the VIP dinner, so it will be a fascinating set of speakers for the evening - from the ICRC, to the FCO, to the US Cyberspace Solarium Commission! Can't wait for that!

I finish lectures at 6pm and sit back down to work when disaster strikes!! Excel tells me the file is damaged and will attempt recovery!! Seriously, don’t let this happen to me now.... Not 3 days out from the competition. What has happened?!?! After what feels like an eternity, the file loads up and Excel highlights the repair it has done. Some strange error code on one of the lines? Perhaps I have been “cybered”... wouldn’t that be ironic? Main thing now is to take a backup and make sure we have a spare copy of the file, just in case.

I received the updated scenario pack 3 from Andreas, the Scenario Lead, and will get to that after dinner... oh and mustn’t forget those 17 situation assessments that need to be marked too. Oh and I just promised Ashlee and Joh in the comms team I would write my blog for them so it can go live tomorrow morning. So if you are reading this, the email to BT has been sent, comments have gone back to Andreas and the 17 situation assessments should be marked.... Who am I kidding.... I’ll still be doing them on the weekend!!

All of the Organising Committee are busy people who work around their day jobs to ensure the Cyber 9/12 UK runs smoothly. I really do hope the students thoroughly enjoy themselves next week and find the scenario challenging and interesting.... And that the judges and representatives from industry and government can get stuck in offering the students valuable advice.

About Rob

Robert Black is a Lecturer in Information Activities at Cranfield University, at the UK MoD’s Defence Academy, where he leads the classified Cyberwarfare in Intelligence and Military Operations module of the Cyberspace Operations MSc. He is also Deputy Director of the National Cyber Deception Laboratory. His interests lie in understanding the role cyber can play in interstate relations, confrontation and warfare. He has extensive experience working with cyber practitioners and has worked with cyber operators in the planning and delivery of cyber operations. His research interests include Cyber Deception, Information Warfare & Covert Action in the Modern Age.