LONDON (CNN) — The U.K. is preparing its response to future cyber-attacks, and a simulated attack may help Britain find the brightest minds to help stop hackers. The iconic BT Tower rising above the London skyline, it’s an international communications hub that fell victim to hackers.
“Your buildings are under our control. The power is out; the control server is ours,” said an ominous video from hackers to the workers inside BT Tower.
Inside the tower, realization sets in. Lunch is left uneaten; fingers begin to tap. Amid a cacophony of noise, these cyber warriors zone in on their screens. The race is on to regain control of the system and turn back on the power for this vital piece of infrastructure.
Fortunately, this is just all simulation. The cyber-attackers are fictitious. The code-breakers are actually contestants in a competition designed to find the very best people to defend Britain in cyberspace — because the threat of this kind of scenario is very real.
“When you’ve only got to look at some of the attacks that you see every month: big companies, huge amounts of data compromised. And that’s happening again and again and again, and it’s all around — not having the right protections in place,” said Stephanie Daman, CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK. “And in many cases, it’s all about not having the right people to put those protections in place.”
A website from U.S. security firm Norse provides a map of cyber-attacks happening around the world in real-time. Millions happen every day, costing the global economy an estimated $400 billion a year. Experts say more people are needed to counter the problem.
“Twenty-seven percent of the cyber security industry will be at retirement age within the next 10 years,” said Robert Partridge, head of the BT Security Academy. “That leaves a huge gap for the younger generation that isn’t currently being filled.”
This competition is designed to tap into those amateur, self-taught code-breakers who might otherwise remain undiscovered or even tempted to use their skills in a more unethical manner.
“These are ones who are really spending their own time to be skilled, to understand what is going on in the IT world and where the risks are,” said Paul Crichard, head of Cyber Research, Intelligence & Security at Raytheon UK. “And those are the people we can’t find through normal recruitment because perhaps they don’t think they are good enough.”
For this challenge, it was an hour before they could neutralize the hackers, turn the power back on, and send the tower into a 360-degree rotation. It’s a rewarding view, but the bigger prize could be a more secure online.