Imagine that someone discovers a security vulnerability in the software that the oil and gas industry relies on for distribution. It’s an exploitable vulnerability. It’s sitting there at a time when international tensions are rising and countries who couldn’t sustain a conventional attack would feel they could make their point through a cyber attack. As if that wasn’t enough, there are activist groups who believe that oil guzzling nations could well do with a lesson to wake them up to concerns about global warning.
There’s a patch for the vulnerability, But it’s not a quick fix and it’ll mean taking pipelines off-line for as much as a week at a time.
How would you handle the politics, the social anxiety of a nation that loves its cars, the international conundrum of who you can tell – who’s an ally and who’d like to profit from oil prices or just use the opportunity to give the country a kick in the pumps? Can you orchestrate a fix before a cyber attack puts the country in a fix?
This was the theme of this year’s Cyber 9/12 Challenge set by the international think-tank Atlantic Council. 17 teams from 16 universities competed over two days in London’s BT Tower to present the best treatment for a developing scenario. Manchester was well represented by its qualifying team – Cyberhive – comprising Cesare Ardito (School of Mathematics) and Rozita Karami and Pelagia Ntoskori (from Computer Science). Although they didn’t make it into the semi-finals, they excelled in their teamwork – not only in preparation but also in their enthusiastic and compelling presentation to distinguished judges drawn from the military, national and international government, banking, and consultancy. They had even researched and prepared policies and strategies that had only become apparent as the organisers revealed as the international situation (fictitiously) deteriorated.
The team was rewarded by two intense days with networking opportunities with organisations at the forefront of cyber security operations internationally – including Lord George Robertson, former Secretary General of NATO and the only person in its history to have invoked the awesome ‘Article 5’. (And Pelagia won the only student place at the networking dinner in the sumptuous surroundings of the Long Gallery of Lancaster House – home to many international treaty-making sessions over the years.)
It was a great experience and their mentor is very proud of their performance (and looking forward to taking a new cohort to next year’s competition).
Report by Dr. Danny Dresner.