GCHQ Launches National Hacker Competition

British intelligence agency GCHQ has launched a new nation-wide competition called Astute Explorer, designed to help discover future cyber defence talent.

The participants will have to protect a fictional aerospace company from a cyber attack by a fake terror organisation called the Flag Day Associates. The winners will get a chance to compete in Operation: Flag Day, a series of face-to-face, team-based challenges that will culminate in a final showdown with the cyber-terrorists next year.

The competition was developed in partnership with Cyber Security Challenge UK, a government-sponsored organisation which has been running similar competitions since 2011.

Astute Explorer is an ingenious game from GCHQ which will not only provide an enjoyable challenge but will test skills that are in high demand by employers in this sector,” said Stephanie Daman, CEO of the Cyber Security Challenge. “I would encourage anyone with an interest in how IT systems and the information they hold can be protected to sign up and give it a go.”

Role play

The new competition is aimed at a wide range of people familiar with cyber security, from hobbyist code-breakers to experienced IT professionals.

As GCHQ operatives, the participants will have to protect ‘Ebell Technologies’ in a scenario that is based on real-life examples of cyber warfare. Stars of the show, the Flag Day Associates, were originally introduced as the villains of this year’s Cyber Security Challenge. This made-up group relies on theatrics clearly inspired by some of the imagery used by the Anonymous movement.

To win Astute Explorer, the competitors will need to identify vulnerabilities in the company’s defences, explain how they could be exploited, and suggest appropriate fixes.

The most impressive candidates will be asked to report for duty in person at secret locations around the UK, as part of Operation: Flag Day. This stage of the challenge will see the participants carry out investigations face-to-face in teams. Winners will progress to the masterclass final next year, where they will finally get a chance to bring down the Flag Day Associates.

“GCHQ, as the UK’s National Technical Authority for Information Assurance, is pleased to have been able to develop an original game for the Cyber Security Challenge,” said Chris Ensor, deputy director for the National Technical Authority for IA.

“We have designed Astute Explorer to really test candidates’ Cyber Security skills. At GCHQ, like many other high tech organisations, we recognise the need for a skilled workforce which is why we are delighted to once again support the Cyber Security Challenge to inspire the next generation of Cyber Security talent.”

The latest game follows on from Assignment: Flag Drive set by security software vendor Sophos which, over this past weekend, tasked the public with analysing a hard-drive recovered from the fictional hackers.

Interested parties can register for Astute Explorer challenge here.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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