The Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative together with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) concluded the first European Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge, held on April 22 to 23 in Geneva, Switzerland. In the first competition of its kind in Europe, sixteen teams competed to offer their best national security policy prescriptions for combating escalating cyber conflict. The teams traveled to Geneva from the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Switzerland, Finland, Hungary, Estonia, and the United States. By bringing together current and future cyber policymakers from across the transatlantic community, the Student Challenge provided a unique venue for advancing cybersecurity education in Europe and beyond.

This year’s winner was team Switzerland, composed of Swiss military officers enrolled in HEC Lausanne and ETH Zurich. A team of first-year undergraduates from the University of Aberystwyth in the United Kingdom came second, followed by a team from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and a team from the Military University of Technology in Poland. The four finalist teams’ different nationalities and academic backgrounds greatly demonstrate the diversity of the student teams that met in Geneva to compete this year.

The competition also gathered an impressive panel of judges, including Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges; Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, Head of Cyber Policy Coordination at European External Action Service; Helena Lindberg, Director General of Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency; and many other distinguished cyber experts. The opening ceremony featured a video greeting by the President of the Republic of Estonia, the Hon. Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Additionally, student competitors were able to engage in question-and-answer sessions with world-class experts like Laurent Gisel, Legal Adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ambassador Urs Schmid, Switzerland’s Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, as well as Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar and Helena Lindberg, who also served as judges for the competition. The event also hosted a career panel of young cybersecurity professionals from government, international organizations, and the private sector to advise the students as they plan their future careers.

The Student Challenge was made possible by the support of NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division, F-Secure, and Codenomicon. Delta Risk, Michael Hermann, and Matthew Angelo assisted the Cyber Statecraft Initiative and GCSP in developing the competition scenario, and CrowdStrike provided prizes for the finalist teams. Additionally, the Division for Security Policy of the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs and the Reporting and Analysis Centre for Information Sharing (MELANI) of the Swiss Department of Defense generously hosted an evening reception and awards ceremony, providing the students a unique opportunity to engage with senior-level cybersecurity practitioners acting as judges and observers.

The Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge remains the only major student competition where participants develop security policy recommendations to national and international leaders in response to a major cyber incident. Part interactive learning experience and part competitive scenario exercise, the Student Challenge gives students interested in cyber conflict policy an opportunity to interact with expert mentors, judges, and cyber professionals while developing valuable skills in policy analysis and presentation. With the first competition now held in Europe, the Student Challenge was able to reach out to an even broader group of students interested in the field of cybersecurity.

The European Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge follows three successful years of similar competitions held in Washington, DC. The winner of this year’s US competition held on March 13 to 14 was BrownSecure, a team of undergraduates from Brown University coached by John Savage.

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