If you have watched “The Imitation Game” (the film that dramatises Alan Turing’s code breaking adventures during World War II) you will recall that in the early part of the story, the interceptions team that Alan Turing is working on are desperately short of enough talented code breakers to help analyse and later decrypt the German Enigma codes. To solve the staff shortage, a cryptic crossword is published in the Times newspaper and those who solve the crossword are invited to the next stage of the selection process at Bletchley Park.
Yesterday I was reminded of this story when I was in London at the launch of Cyber Security Challenge UK’s “Cyphinx” platform- a 3D Play On Demand game environment that seeks to recruit future cyber security experts. In a similar approach to the crossword challenge published in 1940s Britain, potential cyber security experts recruits in 2015 are being sought using a complex range of games and puzzles for them to solve.
The first person I met at the launch event was 17 year old ‘create-author’ Dan Galbraith who demonstrated the malware security challenges that he wrote himself. He described to me how his interest in computer security first started at age 8 when he found a way to circumvent the administrator password on his dad’s Windows XP computer. Years later at the college he attended, after identifying vulnerabilities in the college’s computer network, he volunteered to work with technical staff to make the system more robust to withstand malicious attacks.
Dan is just one of a team of junior developers that have contributed challenges to the Cyber Security Challenge. Dan showed me how the challenges are graded Bronze, Silver and Gold. Successful completion of the challenges enable players to complete a test on their Moodle course leading to being awarded the relevant badge. I was impressed with the technical complexity of the malware challenge which includes requiring the player to inspect a ‘suspect’ .exe file containing obfuscated code and identify the potential harm it could cause.
Matt Hawkins another cyber challenge author-creator, built a Minecraft cyber security challenge zone after he completed his degree this summer. In this Minecraft world, the player has to move around to solve a number of challenges each revealing clues. One challenge involves first identifying QR codes from a tower structure and then flattening them to reveal the true message. A further challenge includes a wall with pattern bumps on revealing a message written in a form of morse code.
I recorded some interviews with Matt, Dan and his dad James that you can listen to here: [listen to the podcast interviews]
I think there are powerful lessons that many of us can learn from these challenges, even if we don’t consider ourselves as future penetration testers. I was particularly interested to hear the views of the young people there who felt it was better to educate people about issues around cyber security rather than keep it as a taboo subject. To learn more about the Cyber Security Challenge and Cyphinx visit these links:
Cyber Security Challenge – http://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/
Register Interest – https://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/signup/