From Contestant to Designer and Cyber Professional

Posted — 15.03.2017

In our latest blog, Robert Smith, PwC Cyber Threat Detection and Incident Response, former Cyber Security Challenge contestant and now competition author and assessor, discusses how he became involved with The Challenge and his career in cyber security.

How did you go from Graduate to your current position?

Before graduating I spent a year in industry working with a digital development team for a large UK based retailer. The team focussed on working and delivering at pace and I was responsible for leading an organisational wide agile transformation. As part of this team it was my role to help deliver secure and robust infrastructure in the cloud to support the running of our mobile applications, while also contributing to the design and governance process of future solutions.

After graduating I was still a little unsure which of the domains of security I ultimately wanted to work in so decided to seek out an opportunity and role drastically different to my previous one. After speaking to a few different organisations I settled upon a research position. Over the nine months in that role I was afforded a number of incredible learning opportunities and found solutions to address some interesting challenges but ultimately, I missed the pace and the focus on delivery that a business had to offer.

Having spoken to several firms and security consultancies I ultimately chose to make the move to PwC due to the strong reputation of the cyber security team and the level of passion and commitment to the area shown by my now colleagues. What impressed me the most was how much personal pride they put into making and delivering something of the highest value to clients.

Now each and every day poses new and exciting challenges and opportunities; whether it be supporting a multinational in its battle against an APT group across its global infrastructure, or gathering intelligence on the latest actions of a highly sophisticated organised crime group, the team really is incredibly diverse and talented. The position offers me the ideal amount of research and development time to create new tools and systems to aid in our intelligence gathering and incident response process while also giving me the responsibility and pace I needed.

How did you get involved with the Challenge?

After my first year at university it became quite clear that top companies and graduate recruiters were looking for something more than just a degree in their new graduates. I knew that if I wanted to succeed I needed to demonstrate a commitment and passion to the area of information security, but as an undergraduate how do you actually do that?

I initially started by looking for local networking groups and university societies but quickly exhausted the limited number. Looking a little more widely I found the Challenge and still remember the first contest I entered; ‘James Lynes’ Linux Forensic Challenge’. What captivated me the most was the Challenge offered something different, it was the ability to refine and develop your skills while simultaneously putting them to the test in real world scenarios.

Now having competed in the Masterclass twice in both 2014 and 2015, I work closely with The Challenge to both assess and design their new competitions. For the last three years, I’ve designed and created the ‘Christmas Cipher’. As part of my role at PwC I designed and created the forensic element of the 2016 Masterclass, pitching candidates against a real-world scenario designed to test every technical aspect of forensics.

Going forward I aim to continue to support the work of The Challenge and will hopefully be able to continue to test and assess future contestants for many competitions to come – it’s so important we support the development of the next generation of talent.