The Internet of War appears to be moving ever closer. The latest Cyber Security Challenge UK saw IoT-connected soldiers hacked by a fictitious gang of hackers.
Last Friday, Her Majesty’s Government Communications Centre (HMGCC), the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and defence group BAE Systems, along with the UK Cabinet Office-backed Cyber Security Challenge UK, arranged a mock cyber-attack on IoT connected soldiers in the field at the MoD’s Defence Cyber School, part of the Defence Academy in Shrivenham.
The challenge saw 24 young amateurs pitted against an imaginary hacktivist group on a mission to gain access to experimental military communications equipment used as part of the MoD’s Future Soldier Vision (FSV) programme.
The challenge is the latest round in a series of competitions led by the Cyber Challenge team, which aims to find the best cyber talent in the country and help them develop their skills further. A previous challenge saw 42 young people given the task of preventing a malicious group from gaining access to an internet-connected home.
A stark cyber battleground
Cyber attacks are an everyday reality in 2017, affecting multiple industries and business both large and small, particularly where the IoT is concerned. Everyone is seemingly vulnerable, and the military, despite so often being at the forefront of technological advancement, is no different.
A lack of cyber skills, meanwhile, is a problem in most countries worldwide. (ISC)2, the world’s largest independent body of information security professionals, predicts a shortfall of 1.8 million cyber savvy workers by 2022 if current employment trends continue.
In response, governments around the world have begun to explore the possibility of legislating to tackle the problem, but investment in technology and people has proved more popular. In October 2016, UK defence secretary Michael Fallon highlighted the scale of the cybercrime threat and announced that the UK Government will invest up to £265 million to boost the defence of the UK’s military cyber systems, including in upskilling the workforce.
Competitions run by the Cyber Challenge are one way to ensure that the UK is better prepared for a malicious breach. The organization runs lifelike simulations of attacks, in order to test the skills of candidates, and judges also assess their psychological responses.
In this particular scenario, created by cyber specialists from HMGCC, contestants were challenged to use their cyber security skills to safeguard the experimental soldiers’ geo-tracking technology.
Midway through the test, the system was hijacked using a man-in-the-middle attack by a cooked-up team of hacktivists. In this sophisticated type of cyber-attack, communications are intercepted and manipulated, typically without being detected. The team lost contact with the soldiers, and were thus launched into a race against the clock to remediate the situation.
The candidates were ordered to report to military chiefs to explain their understanding of the situation, such as why contact was lost, and required to advise on appropriate responses, in keeping with international legal guidelines. The challenge therefore tested their legal knowledge, too, while other tasks, such as puzzles and ciphers hidden around the military site, tested their cryptography and problem-solving skills.
A total of 12 candidates, including a boy of 15, have progressed to the Masterclass grand final, to be held in November. Cyber Challenge says the winners could be offered job contracts worth on average £60,000 per annum.
The future in action
Explaining the value of the challenge from a government perspective, an HMGCC spokesperson said: “Our work involves the design and delivery of communication systems and technical solutions to protect national security at home and overseas, and finding people with the capabilities to keep delivering this is paramount.
“Through initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge UK, we can watch the future of the industry in action, and this gives us so much confidence as we see first-hand the talent that is available to us and the country as a whole. Our customers are various government bodies, and we’re growing fast thanks to their increasing demand for our services. Now we need even more fresh talent on board.”