More than100 students represented their universities at Inter-ACE
More than100 students represented their universities at Inter-ACE

Students from Imperial College London have been declared the most talented in the UK for their cyber-skills at the Inter-ACE competition after beating competition from 11 other top universities, all  of which have been designated as Academic Centres of Excellence in cyber-security research.

More than100 students represented their universities at Inter-ACE, hosted by the University of Cambridge on Saturday, in a capture-the-flag style cyber-security competition aimed at showcasing the UK's future cyber-defenders. Students worked with Leidos' CyberNEXS training platform in a scenario-based competition, featuring penetration testing against mock infrastructure, as well as discrete forensics challenges.

The victorious team QWERTY from Imperial College London was awarded £6,500, with silver going to SU-DON'T from the University of Southampton and PM_ME_FLAGS, also from the University of Southampton, earning bronze. The Silver team scooped £2,500 and the bronze team went home with £1,000.

Luke Granger-Brown, 22, who is studying computing at Imperial College London, told SC Media UK: “It has been an incredible competition, and I'm surprised we won. We would encourage everyone who can to participate in the next competition, as it's a great way to put the stuff we have learnt at university into practice.”

Inter-ACE is an annual cyber-security competition backed by the National Cyber-Security Centre (NCSC), Leidos and NCC Group. It is designed to help tackle the huge cyber-security skills gap, which latest figures suggest will increase to a 1.8 million people shortfall by 2022. Already, more than two-thirds of companies are struggling to recruit the level of staff necessary to defend against major attacks.

Inter-ACE gives budding cyber-enthusiasts a platform to test and improve their skills in a real-life simulation, meet like-minded individuals, and learn more about careers in the sector by introducing them to key players in the industry and government.

The Inter-ACE competition was hosted on Leidos' CyberNEXS platform which enabled the contest to take place on a secure virtual environment to assess network and system attack-and-defend, forensics, and penetration strategies. This environment also gives users the ability to tactically test, evaluate, and train for current and next generation threats.

Individuals from the winning team of the Inter-ACE competition will now be guaranteed a place in the annual Cambridge2Cambridge (C2C) cyber-competition later in the summer, which is jointly organised by the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Boston, US. This time, the teams competing at C2C will be mixed to include cyber-defenders from the best universities from across the UK and US, who will come together to learn best practice in cyber-security and demonstrate their ability to become future cyber-defenders. The three-day event takes place between the 24th and 26th of July at the University of Cambridge and will be observed by experts from across the cyber-security industry.

Dr Frank Stajano, founder of Inter-ACE and reader in Security and Privacy at the University of Cambridge, comments: “The cyber-security industry requires a range of skills that are not purely technical. From psychology and behavioural science, to leadership and business insights - a variety of skills will be key for the cyber-security workforce of the future. Inter-ACE gives pupils the opportunity to implement the skills and theory they have been taught at university in a realistic environment, while learning new ones in the process, which will help grow them into the cyber-defenders of the future. It also teaches them to adapt to their surroundings and think on their feet, priming students to be trained in industry and make a real impact.

“Competitions such as Inter-ACE open the door for a wide range of individuals who may not have thought about embarking on a career in the industry previously. The pupils competing here have had the opportunity to experience the industry first-hand, in a fun but competitive environment, which could hopefully impact their career decisions in the future – inspiring them to pursue a career in the industry and increasing the talent pool in the process.”

Doreen Haywood, Leidos senior vice president, cyber-& SIGINT Solutions, comments: “Leidos is a strong supporter of STEM activities, and sees its importance in attracting and inspiring cyber-security talent.By introducing students and professionals to CyberNEXS, we hope to increase their interest in this evolving field, and grow the future workforce to support critical global missions.”