Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude today launched a masterclass in which amateur cyber defenders will compete to protect the City of London from a simulated cyber attack.
The masterclass forms part of the Cyber Security Challenge (CSC) UK, a series of national events designed to encourage talented professionals to join the UK IT security industry in the middle of a supposed "cyber skills crisis".
The latest event has been developed by cyber security experts from BT, GCHQ, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Juniper Networks and Lockheed Martin.
The event will culminate in the announcement of the new Cyber Security Challenge champion, to be crowned on Saturday evening.
The competition took six months of planning, according to CSC, and through various qualifying competitions in the past year, the number of participants has been whittled down to 42.
Last night, the finalists were divided into teams and given a "breaking news report" describing a cyber attack on London's financial district that was making online banking platforms inaccessible and new stock market flotations impossible, as well as compromising BACS systems. The finalists were then briefed by GCHQ and the NCA on their intelligence on the ransomware threat that they would be tackling.
Stephanie Daman, CEO of CSC, said that the masterclass was the "biggest, most realistic and exciting cyber defence simulation" that the organisers had ever run.
"We hope the excitement of the next few days will not only inspire many of our hugely talented finalists to lend their skills to the cyber security profession, but also encourage many more people from across the UK to sign up with us and test their skills in next year's competitions," she said.
Ciaran Martin, director general for government and industry cyber security at GCHQ, said: "We need more, high quality people in all sectors of the economy working on cyber security. That's why the Challenge is so valuable and why GCHQ is proud to be a sponsor."
Maude, who has responsibility for the UK cyber security strategy, claimed that the Challenge "encouraged talented people to enter into cyber security careers".
In January, KPMG's UK head of cyber security, Martin Jordan, explained that the "Big Four" professional services firm had to scale down its sponsorship of the Challenge because of a lack of credible talent for the firm to recruit.
Daman responded by suggesting that sponsors should not measure the success of the Challenge by the amount of talent they recruit, but by the awareness of cyber security that has spread as a result of the events.
Computing and QA Training's Securing Talent campaign aims to raise awareness of the growing need for people with cyber security skills in industry and government, and for clearer pathways into the cyber security profession.