For many CyberCenturions, the live rounds are their first experience of what it’s like to protect a system from attack. And nothing can prepare you for how exciting they are! There are highs and lows, impossible challenges and unforgettable team celebrations. And if you make it through all three live rounds and end up at the top of the leaderboard, you’ll be invited to the all-expenses paid final in London.
If you’re thinking of entering a team for the first time, or you want to compete, check out our interview with CyberCenturion Daniel Burton. Daniel competed in CyberCenturion four years running and is now active in the cyber community at the University of Southampton, where he studies Computer Science. He had no knowledge of cyber security before the competition, but is now considering a career in infosec – and wants to encourage others to follow in his footsteps.
Every technological advance raises more security questions and it’s going to take a full army of us to help defend the cyber world of tomorrow.
What are you studying and what are you particularly enjoying about your course?
I am studying Computer Science with Cyber Security at the University of Southampton and am currently in my first of four years. Although we don’t specialise in cyber security until after the first year, I am very much enjoying my course. It has definitely met my expectations from what I’ve seen so far, and I’m particularly enjoying the hands-on, physical aspect of the laboratory teaching sessions and the closely-linked Cyber Security Society!
What do you get up to when you’re not studying?
I’m never one to shy away from a game of chess. I captained my school’s chess teams, completed my A-Level Computer Science project on the topic of chess tournaments and have now joined my university’s club and team. Much like with cyber security, there’s a great sense of strategy and looking ahead in the game and a rewarding feeling when an idea comes together. On the more active side of things, I enjoy cross-county running as a way of testing my limits.
What is it you love about cyber security?
I really enjoy the satisfaction of using strategy and foresight to find a solution to a problem, especially when this can have visible consequences. It’s like a constant game of cat and mouse trying to think of problems and find solutions which keeps things exciting, especially when the issues can be so critical.
What (or who) first got you into cyber security?
It would have to be the CyberCenturion competition! I’d heard about cyber security before, but knew relatively little so didn’t really get into it before the competition. It was when I was given the chance to be a part of CyberCenturion that I began to use the competition’s training resources, alongside a little external research, to start exploring the area. I’ve enjoyed cyber security as a side interest ever since, and am ready to embrace it as a major part of my studies and potential career in the coming years.
One of the best parts about the competition for me was how we made such great progress while being so new to the field. All I really knew heading in was that it was a field concerning the protection of computer systems!
Tell us a bit more about your experience in CyberCenturion – what did you enjoy most, and was particularly challenging or rewarding?
I competed in CyberCenturion for 4 years. The most enjoyable part of the competition was the team spirit – there was just something so exciting about the communal group cheer as the familiar noise rang around the room indicating one of us had just earned some points. This would always be followed by enthusiastic sharing of knowledge, with the winner of the points telling everyone how they found the problem and what they did to fix it, in the hope that we might have been able to apply a similar approach on another image or future round.
In some cases, this led to some of the most rewarding and satisfying moments of the competition – the times when you’re five hours in and just need to fix one or two more things to really put the team in a healthy position on the leaderboard, only to finally find it.
How do you think CyberCenturion prepared you to study computer science at university?
Before even reaching the cyber security aspects of my course (we don’t specialise until after first year), the CyberCenturion competition has prepared me well for a computer science course. The Linux images in the competition introduced me to Unix-based Operating Systems which has made transitioning into the occasional use of these systems much smoother.
Perhaps even more important is the resilience CyberCenturion taught me when it came to problem solving in computer science. Up until that point, the majority of the computer science problems I had tackled had been straightforward school tasks. With its time window of several hours, the competition presents some more challenging tasks which force you to keep thinking of new ways to approach a problem, and introduce the reality that many of the best solutions take a lot of time.
Do you think the competition helps get young people ready for a career in IT?
Absolutely! The style of the competition, which provides a fairly long but strict time scale to complete a task which is clear but with open solutions, seems very realistic for a career, and provides a new perspective on work other than that of the usual school environment. It also offers a practical application both for skills learned in and outside the classroom.
Do you think enough young people are considering cyber security as a career?
There’s no doubt that the demand for young people to consider cyber security as a career is high; every technological advance raises yet more security questions and it’s going to take a full army of us to help defend the cyber world of tomorrow. It’s a sad reality that, perhaps due to lack of opportunity or encouragement, there are many young people who are more than capable and would get great enjoyment from a career in cyber security, but would never consider it. I definitely think we should try to encourage more kids into the field.
We completely agree! So what can we do?
The first step is to make cyber security more of a well-known career. Far too few people at my school, myself included, were aware of the opportunities offered by a career in cyber security before competing in CyberCenturion. Spreading awareness of cyber security as a career option is an important first step, to be followed by the continued work of competitions like CyberCenturion to illustrate what a career in cyber security might be like.
Do you think schools should do more?
Schools should encourage kids to do what they enjoy and what they show ability in. There’s no point trying to force people into subjects they’re simply not interested in, but introducing STEM subjects and nurturing those who take interest with encouragement and programmes like this is essential to make shape the cyber specialists of tomorrow.
Have you participated in any other cyber security programmes?
In school, I took part in the CyberStart program, and I’m a member of the Southampton University Cyber Security Society. I also undertook extension activities such as the Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge, the British Informatics Olympiad and TCS Oxford Computing Challenge.
Finally, what would you like to say to the next generation of potential cyber specialists?
Get involved! The more opportunities you take, the better equipped you are to have a fulfilling and successful career in cyber security. Keep up with news and current events and stay enthusiastic – someday you will be a major part of it!