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Cyber security students scoop national prize

  • Date01 March 2018

A team of students from Royal Holloway, University of London have carried off a prestigious prize in a national cyber security challenge.

The four women, all from Royal Holloway’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security won the Cyber 9/12 UK Student Challenge which pits teams from a number of universities against each other in a two day competition where they had to ‘war game’ a strategy to combat a major cyber-attack, under extreme time pressures.


Left to right: Lydia, Angela, Georgia and Amy

Each team was presented with a range of cyber security intelligence material for an evolving incident and had to present technical, policy and strategy options on which senior government and industry decision makers would be able to act to achieve a positive solution.

The teams were made up of people from different disciplines with a mix of skills. A panel of judges evaluated the teams on the quality of their policy responses, decision-making processes and their presentations

Robert Carolina, of Royal Holloway’s Information Security Group and the team’s coach said: “Fifteen teams took part and they were gradually reduced. As the challenge progressed each team received additional information about the nature and impact of the incident. At each stage they had to assess what was happening and produce and present briefing material and recommendations to the judges, as if it was a real-life attack.

“This competition address one of the big challenges facing cyber security. It is increasingly about people issues but there is a danger that those working in this area operate in silos, when what is required is the ability to bring together people with a broad skill set to ensure that those who have to make decisions, such as a Prime Minister, have well thought through policy recommendations put before them.”

He added: “I was especially impressed by the way the team came together, absorbed feedback and worked hard to climb a challenging learning curve. Each step forward was also a step upward.”

The Royal Holloway team won £2,000. In addition to winning the overall competition, they also received a special award for best decision document in the first round of the competition

The competition is organised by the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank, in partnership with the Royal United Services Institute. The competition aims to help boost cyber security skills and help tackle the shortage of cyber security professionals.

The Royal Holloway team were:

Lydia Garms, 25:

Lydia completed a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge in 2014, before studying for a Master’s degree in Applicable Mathematics at the London School of Economics in 2015. She is currently studying for a PhD in Cyber Security at Royal Holloway as part of the Centre for Doctoral Training, focusing on cryptography. Lydia is originally from Newcastle.

Lydia said: “Cyber 9/12 was a huge learning curve, in an area very different from my background. It was an incredibly fast paced, but enjoyable, two days, and an amazing insight into cyber policy. It was also a great experience at working as a team in a high pressured situation.”

Angela Heeler, 51:

Angela is a PhD student in ISG CDT having completed an MSc in Information Security at Royal Holloway. Her first degree is in Mathematics and Computer Science, also from Royal Holloway. She worked for a large multi-national in the oil and gas sector and then spent 10 years living and working abroad. She has worked with and for small businesses for 15 years. Her research interest focuses on helping small businesses thrive along with the human aspects of security.

Angela said: “I really enjoyed getting to know and working together with my teammates as the competition progressed with tighter and tighter deadlines. I especially appreciated the instant feedback from the judges which then fed into the subsequent rounds.”

Georgia Crossland, 22:

Georgia studied Psychology at Royal Holloway and then obtained a Master’s at King’s College in Mental Health Studies, including a disaster response course. She is now a first year PhD student at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, and is interested in applying psychology to cyber security issues, with a particular focus on human factors in organisations. Georgia is originally from Brighton

Georgia said: “It was an amazing but rather challenging experience. It was a great chance to work as a team, with other students studying cyber security at Royal Holloway from different backgrounds. The experience taught us how to work effectively as a team and respond quickly to various scenarios.

Amy Ertan, 26:

Amy studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford before completing a Barclays graduate scheme. She is interested in interdisciplinary approaches to cybersecurity, including international relations and military defence studies, as well as behavioural and applied economic theory. She is keen to promote interdisciplinary cybersecurity policy and action while studying on Royal Holloway's CDT Cyber Security PhD programme, as well as greater collaboration between academia and industry organisations. She also works part-time as a Strategic Threat Intelligence analyst.

Amy said: “Given our various academic and career backgrounds, each team member contributed different perspectives and knowledge to the team, which definitely benefited our overall performance.
“The competition was of extremely high calibre and it was inspiring to see the other teams perform. It was also encouraging to see senior government and industry representatives highlight how interdisciplinary thinking has a real place in policy-making and when facing cyber security threats more generally.

“It was great to have the support of the ISG department who encouraged us to enter and give this our best shot.”

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