UK Cyber Security Challenge won by chemist with no IT background

The postman always wins twice

A chemist with no formal security training has become the latest self-taught high achiever to win the UK Cyber Security Challenge, fending off thousands of rivals in a series of competitions run over the last year.

Stephen Miller, 28, emerged triumphant from Sunday's Cassidian and HP-sponsored final which challenged them to cope with a plausible but imaginary hack of a diagnostic safety system used by a Formula 1 racing team only days before an important race.

Contestants first had to investigate whether and how a breach had occurred before performing a wider review of the organisation's security policies by looking for deeper vulnerabilities.

At the end of the assessment, whether the race car was deemed safe to take part in the race was down to their judgment.

"I came to this competition in 2010 with no background in cyber security and yet my own interest in the area, coupled with the experience I have built up playing the Challenge competitions, has resulted in me winning the whole thing," said Miller, who currently works as a Lab manager for a pharmaceutical firm overseeing clinical drug trial tests.

"To have won the Cyber Security Challenge UK is amazing. It's a result that gives me huge confidence to start applying this expertise to protect information and data in my own workplace. It's also a powerful message to anyone who might question whether the Challenge is for them," he said.

The non-IT background of winners (that is, their lack of formal training), has been a recurring theme of the Cyber Security Challenge since its inception in 2010.

Famously, the 2010-11 competition was won by a postman, Dan Summers, who was delivering letters having worked in IT-related roles before that.

This year's second place also went to 24 year-old Steve Jarvis, an IT professional who works for a hedge fund and who also has no formal security training.

None of this is really surprising. IT has been seen as a high-technical, generally well-paid career, but one that is not necessarily particularly 'exciting' for the enquiring mind. Security adds that missing dimension and the skills it requires are suddenly in huge demand.

Security and cyberdefence is also increasingly prestigious. Miller gets to choose from £100,000 of prizes that includes industry training courses, university bursaries, and paid internships.

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