UCL students participate in University Cipher Challenge

21 January 2013

UCL is one of four universities taking part in a unique code-breaking competition as part of this year’s Cyber Security Challenge UK. Four top-rated Computer Science departments – UCL, Edinburgh Napier University, University of Birmingham and University of Bristol – have accepted the challenge to develop their own cipher, a method for encrypting messages, that will be released to other participating universities and Challenge candidates to break. The four-week virtual tournament starts on Monday 21st January, with a new cipher released each week, and is designed to inspire students who are particularly interested in entering cyber security careers and practising their skills at code-making and -breaking.

The University Cipher Challenge is being coordinated by the Cyber Security Challenge UK and PwC as part of their strategy to engage with the education community and highlight and develop talent in the UK’s student population. Cyber security professionals from PwC will be scoring each university on criteria including the ingenuity of their own cipher designs, their resistance to cracking by other Challenge candidates, and successful breaking of another university’s cipher.

Stephanie Daman, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK, said:

“The UK has a world-class academic base in cyber security and this tournament represents a great opportunity for existing Challenge candidates and new players to test the hard code-breaking skills and out-of-the-box thinking that the cyber security profession requires. We are running this as a pilot with the ambition to encourage more university departments to take part in 2013/14, as we embark on a dedicated education programme featuring university based cyber camps and a set of competitions specifically designed for students.”

Dr Nicolas Courtois, Senior Lecturer at UCL Computer Science, said:

“At UCL we believe that research should be competitive, experimental and rooted in real-life problems. Teaching a responsible and ethical approach to code breaking is a key part of training the next generation of security professionals and we spare no effort to make sure that our students have both the practical skills and the necessary expertise to solve any problem they face.

We have been able to integrate this year’s competition into the curriculum for the UCL Applied Cryptography course so that students’ contribution will be graded and count as coursework. The UCL team will also include PhD students and post-doctoral researchers. We expect that the spirit of this competition will enable our students to learn a lot in a stimulating and competitive environment and will have a lasting influence on their further research and professional careers.”

The Cyber Security Challenge UK began in 2010 as three competitions run by a small group of supporters from industry, government and academia to address a skills gap in the cyber security profession. Now, in its third year, the Challenge has grown its range of competitions to better represent the variety of skills currently demanded within the profession, is backed by around 50 sponsors and also acts as a source of guidance for those keen to enter the industry.

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