From preventing a nuclear meltdown to hacking into central heating systems, the skills of 32 of the UK’s most gifted teenage code-breakers have been put to the test.
It was all part of the national finals of the Cyber Security Challenge UK, which also saw the students attempting to crack codes with a real Enigma machine.
Teams from seven schools across the country took part in the event last month, with a team of students from Stockport School in Cheshire scooping the £1,000 prize.
The challenges had been designed by leading industry experts and the national competition was linked to the publication cyber security teaching resources earlier last year.
At the finals, which were held at Warwick University, the teenagers had to demonstrate their code-breaking skills in front of these industry experts in a series of live timed tests.
These tests included a competition to prevent a cyber-attack on a nuclear facility in the midst of a simulated nuclear meltdown and a contest to hunt down hidden “message pigeons” by detecting their radio frequencies – and then using the real Enigma machine to try and decrypt the resulting messages.
The students used methods such as steganography (often described as the science of hiding information) and SCADA – a system for using coded signals to remotely access and take over equipment.
The Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme is being funded by the Cabinet Office and is aimed at “unlocking hidden cyber talent across Britain’s schools” and sparking young people’s interest around the growing number of careers in cyber security.
It recently unveiled an industry-backed free-to-download Cyber Security Schools Pack for the 2014 curriculum, which features case studies in cyber-terrorism and exercises in cryptography.
Brian Higgins, schools programme manager at the Cyber Security Challenge UK, said: “We have been working with leading employers to train the next generation who will defend Britain in cyberspace.
“We aim to work with schools to address the cyber-security skills gap that is causing such concern across industry.
“Crucially, by offering a pathway to future employment, this helps prevent gifted children drifting into cyber-crime, by providing a positive outlet for their talents.”
The other schools that sent teams to the national finals were: the High School for Girls in Gloucester, King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford, the Grimsby Institute in Grimsby, Haileybury School in Hertfordshire, Ysgol Maesydderwen in Powys, and the Kings School in Chester (Stockport School had two teams at the final).
For more information on the programme, visit www.cybersecuritychallenge.org/education CAPTION: Cyber challenge: Students take part in the national finals of the Cyber Security Challenge UK, during which they had to use a real Enigma machine (top and second images). Cabinet secretary Francis Maude congratulates the winning students from Stockport School (third image)