Campus - 03.05.2019 - 00:00 

Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge 2019

The Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge 2019 took place in the Geneva Centre for Security Policy on 25/26 April. With the support of Deloitte, five women students of the University of St.Gallen in different teams were confronted with the challenge of a fictitious cyber attack. Two of the three teams even reached the semi-final. By student reporter Anna Kati Schreiter.

3 May 2019. Important institutions in Europe become the target of a cyber-attack. Politics, the authorities concerned and the private sector are called upon to act fast and effectively. But how should the relevant decision-makers best behave on the day after such an event? To confront this task, students from all over Europe and the USA met for the fifth Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge in Geneva on 25/26 April 2019. 22 teams made up of four members each competed against each other on two days.

Fictitious scenario: a cyber attack in Europe

What may appear to be highly technical at first glance also encompasses political and economic aspects. The participating teams were provided with a fictitious scenario as early as four weeks before the challenge, which outlined a cyber crisis within Europe. Participants were expected to develop possible policy options for this situation. At the event itself, which was staged by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) in cooperation with the Atlantic Council, the teams revealed their individual results in a ten-minute presentation and had to answer questions asked by the jury for another ten minutes.

On the same evening, participants who were able to qualify for the second round received new situation reports which described the escalation of the scenario. The information they contained meant that the teams had to start a night shift with very little sleep. This imbued the fictitious scenario with a certain amount of realism: in less than twelve hours, the teams had to adapt their own policy option drafts on the basis of the new information and if necessary to renew them. After the presentation of the modified policy options on the second day, the best four teams of the quarter finals were given more information about the intensification of the fictitious crisis. In the final round, the finalists had very little time for preparation. The results were presented by all the participants, with a team from the US Military Academy in West Point getting the better of their competitors.

A glimpse of the world of cyber security

Outsiders, too, had an opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the world of cyber security and to be part of the event as "observers". Besides the competition, the programme included many contributions by acknowledged experts. Representatives of NATO and other important institutions in the field of cyber security, for instance, as well as cyber security companies, contributed informative lectures.

Cooperation with ETH Zurich

Three mixed teams were formed in cooperation with ETH Zurich: Kassiopeia, Palladion and QWERTY. While the Kassiopeia team was awarded a prize for the most creative strategy, the other two qualified for the semi-finals of the twelve best teams and, in fifth and sixth place, missed their qualification for the finals by a whisker. After the challenge, I met the three HSG students of the QWERTY team, Elena Peters, Anne-Sophie Marchal and Anna Czajkowska, to ask them about their impressions and experiences in connection with the challenge. Whereas Elena is already in her fourth semester of Law and Economics and is acquiring the Data Science Fundamentals (DSF) supplementary certificate as part of her studies, Anne-Sophie and Anna are undergraduates in the Assessment Year in Economic Sciences at present. All of them were taking part in such an event for the first time and initially did not know exactly what they were letting themselves in for: "The workshops with Deloitte, whose staff provided our three teams with great support for three days, were of great importance for the preparation. They showed us how to tackle a crisis and how to analyse it and how best to present our results. We were able to run through our entire presentation in a mock challenge. This was a great help for the challenge, but also for our further studies and our lives," says Elena.

To retain an overview during preparatory work and to be able to perform well in the question rounds, too, the team members played different roles: "Elena was responsible for the legal aspects because of the knowledge from her studies, Alina from ETH for everything technical, Anna for the private sector and I was responsible for crisis communication," says Anne-Sophie. The individual members’ interdisciplinary make-up produced a good mixture, which ultimately enabled the team to go a long way. "Having technical know-how was certainly an advantage but not strictly necessary," says Anna. All three referred to an extended horizon. They learnt much about themselves in the course of the challenge, as well as about keeping calm in situations of crisis and presenting results under enormous time pressure.

The women team was also provided with strong support by HSG doctoral student and project staff member Lisa Garbe. She supervised the participants during the challenge as a coach and lent them a helping hand during the preparations.

Women in Cyber initiative

The fact that the HSG/ETH teams consisted of women only was no accident: the participation of the three teams was supported by Deloitte in terms of both funding and expertise. For some time now, the international consultancy company has been promoting the Women in Cyber initiative, which was launched in the UK in 2015. Since at present, the proportion of women in the sphere of cyber security is very low, Deloitte would like to foster diversity in this field. Talented women should be encouraged to pursue a career in this industry. Deloitte aims to eradicate gender-related prejudices and shows opportunities for women in the working world of cyber security. Thus the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge provided an optimal communication surface for the company to underpin and extend its statement about the role of women in the cyber world.

Anna Kati Schreiter is studying economic sciences in the second semester at the University of St.Gallen.

Image: GCSP

Discover our special topics