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Brit PhD student excels in Pentagon digi-forensics challenge

Makes global top ten, heads UK rankings

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A computer science student from Lancaster University has become the UK winner of the digital forensics challenge, a global competition designed and hosted by the US Department of Defense.

Christopher Richardson (AKA Ikarus) came first in the UK and ninth internationally among 1,791 competitors from 52 countries. The challenge was designed to test the ability of competitors to extract and scrutinise data to solve a simulated cyber crime. Aspects of the challenge involved understanding file signatures, metadata hashes, data hiding, communication recovery, and information concealment.

“It was difficult in parts but really enjoyable,” says Richardson, who is currently studying for a PhD in intrusion detection systems. “I have always had an interest in a wide range of security areas both inside and outside of my academic speciality and this competition gave me a platform to test my skills on practical problems with real world relevance. After getting stuck a couple of times, I didn’t think I had done that well, but to win the UK stream and do so well across the whole competition feels great.”

Richardson will receive £2,000 of security training from 7Safe as a reward for his efforts, which have also earned him a place in the UK Cyber Security Challenge UK’s face-to-face play-offs next year. He qualifies, alongside several runners up, for the Sophos Malware Hunt on 14 January, where competitors will be asked to identify and explain a range of real malicious code from the vaults at Sophos' Labs.

The Cyber Security Challenge UK is designed to unearth fresh sources of cyber security talent from people not already working in the industry. the initiative is supported by both the UK's government, universities and high tech firms. “The Challenge is a key component of a new approach that the profession must embrace – it’s about focusing on natural aptitude first, and then bringing in certifications and training courses like the ones we are offering Chris, to mould that aptitude into a professional skills set,” explained Alan Phillips, chief exec of 7Safe. ®

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