Code breaker Jessica beats thousands to finals of search for UK's best cyber crimefighters

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) code breaker beat thousands to reach the finals of the search for Britain’s best amateur cyber crimefighters.


Jessica Williams, 22, a final year student on Computer Games Programming, beat thousands of entrants to win a place on the finals of the Cyber Security Challenge UK.

Jessica was the only woman among the 42 finalists to compete in the challenge which asked the code breakers to foil a simulated cyber terrorist plot to unleash a biological attack on the Royal Family in Westminster Abbey.

Now she has her sights set on working for Britain’s biggest cyber security companies and has a string of interviews lined up ahead of her graduation in May.

She said: “I have always loved puzzles, problem solving and games, seeing how things fit together and I think that is partly what appeals about cyber.”

Jessica got the bug for working in cyber after completing a placement year working for a company that offered cyber security services.

She said: “When I was working in industry, I saw the cyber team at work – they all got to do different things every day, and got to travel and the idea of going into work and not knowing what you will be doing that day is exciting.”  

Jessica took part in the Cyber Security Challenge held at DMU earlier this year which saw professionals and amateurs compete in a series of real-life scenarios.

The Cyber Security Challenge Masterclass aimed to address the critical skills shortage for cyber professionals. There is a projected shortfall of 1.5million cyber professionals by 2020.

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Finalists were tested on their ability to use the very latest cyber security tools, forensic computing and penetration testing, as well as their ability to work both as part of a team and independently.

Thousands of people tried to win a place by entering a series of rigorous qualifying rounds held online. To qualify for the finals, entrants had to solve puzzles, crack codes and complete reverse engineering challenges.

Jessica said: “The games programming course has really really helped me, before I had not done any coding so the course was my first experience.

“Having the lecturers around to ask questions and talk to helped me. After hearing about my cyber security adventures I've even had lecturers from other courses lend me a hand!”

The final challenge was devised by QinetiQ which provides protection for critical national infrastructure. Candidates began the Masterclass at the company’s hi-tech research facility in Farnborough on Thursday, where a government agency Commander briefed them on a potential national security threat involving a biological attack in London.

Using their forensic and crypto-analysis skills, they entered the murky world of corporate espionage and pieced together clues that revealed insiders planning a bio-attack involving a deadly strain combination of Anthrax and Ebola, known as the ‘Reaper Virus’.

The event even included a simulated emergency response team including biohazard teams and Counter-IED robots who went to the grounds of Westminster Abbey to prevent the fictitious deadly toxin from being released into the ventilation system during the royal engagement.

Bryan Lillie, Chief Technical Officer, Cyber, QinetiQ: "The cyber security threat to our country, both to businesses and the general public, is constantly changing and developing so we must ensure we have the highest level of talent protecting us from it. The Challenge is perfect for ensuring this; QinetiQ itself has hired past competitors to help it provide protection for critical national infrastructure and the Government."

Ciaran Martin, Director General Cyber, GCHQ said: “Developing a resilient and talented cyber security skills pipeline is absolutely essential to enable the UK to flourish in today's digital world". 
Posted on Monday 21st December 2015

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