Ten young hackers have departed to Switzerland this week to represent the UK at the first European Cyber Security Challenge. They have been split into juniors (14-20) and seniors (20-30) teams, and are competing against opponents from Germany, Spain, Romania, Austria and Switzerland.
The youngest members of the juniors team are James Nock, a 15-year-old GCSE student who, despite his youth, came third in the code analysis challenge provided to Cyber Security Challenge UK by GCHQ.
Also in pre-university education is Margaret Pang, who is 17 and a Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry and Physics A-Level student at Gloucester High School for Girls.
The team's cyber-related aptitudes will be tested, including its skills in network analysis, digital forensics, and cryptography. The hackers are being supported by mentors provided by sponsors Raytheon and IRM.
Daniel Cannon, a management consultant for IRM attending the European Cyber Security Challenge, told The Register that the teams would be required to "demonstrate abilities" across a range of cyber areas, including "actively attacking another computer system, exploiting known and unknown vulnerabilities to access the sensitive data, and then working to prevent those kind of attakcs from the other side".
"There is a huge shortage in cyber skills Europe-wide, and IRM is engaged in discussing ways to encourage people to get into the industry," added Cannon.
Among the team members was cryptography-enthusiast Pang, who told us that she "always liked puzzle solving, that's why I got into crypto. I've definitely found the European Cyber Security Challenge more difficult than what I've been used to. It is, primarily, fun to do", as well as providing an educational and professionally appealing experience.
"One of our challenges was pulling codes from a USB stick, as it had 100 files on it," she added, all of which were encoded in different formats, from binary through to base64, which the team had to collaborate together to decipher.
Pang's interest in cryptography allowed her to specialise in dealing with the crypto challenges. "We all have different skills, different roles. Altogether we needed to work together to succeed, using everyone's unique set of skills."
The juniors team had met up for the first time last month, and had been working together in Google Hangouts for team-building purposes. "We got to talk to each other and everyone knows everyone," said Pang. "On the flight too, it's not just their skills, but how they are as a person too."
Stephanie Daman, CEO, Cyber Security Challenge UK said: "Our team is made up of individuals with very different backgrounds, skills and knowledge. This just goes to show that anyone, anywhere could become an expert in cyber security, they just need an inquiring mind and the passion to succeed." ®