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GCHQ in new challenge for cyber security wannabes

So me lad, ye think ye can repel boarders, eh?

GCHQ, the nerve centre for UK eavesdropping spooks, has launched a new attempt to persuade tech-savvy Brits to defend their nation rather than seek lucrative employment in private companies.

Officials at the Government Communications Headquarters are after potential cyber spooks aged 16 and over who are not already working in computer security and could possibly guard the country's networks against the hacking ambitions of hostile states, crooks and script kiddies.

But the spook hopefuls must first triumph in a Balancing the Defence game. The participants will analyse a fake government's networks for possible paths of intrusion, figure out the threats they face and suggest ways to defend them - while taking into account the increasingly tight purse-strings of the UK. The Q-Branch wannabes will have just one week, starting on 1 October, to be briefed on the scenario and submit their report.

"We hope this competition will uncover those who have the vital mix of technical ability and business awareness to make tough decisions in the best interest of an organisation," said Karl, the "architect" of the competition and such a secret spy his surname wasn't given.

"At GCHQ we are committed to finding and developing the new cyber security skills in the UK and these are the skills sets employers including ourselves are most interested in," he added in a tinned statement.

This latest test is part of the Cyber Security Challenge UK programme, which was started in 2010. Winners of Balancing the Defence will be invited onto the next stage of the programme, a face-to-face competition that will further whittle down the candidates. Another virtual competition will follow, after which the remaining contenders will get a real-life challenge with an Aston Martin Racing team and the IT infrastructure the crew relies on.

The final few will reach a Masterclass and Awards weekend in March, where a "range of career enhancing prizes" will be on offer. GCHQ bods didn't specifically say that a spook spot was waiting for anyone, mentioning bursaries, university courses and internships instead, but then, secrecy is in their nature.

The eavesdropping collective may a bit embarrassed to admit how much one of their crack specialists would earn, since another of its competitions, Can You Crack It?, yielded a job with a starting salary of just £25k.

Then again, a number of GCHQ's code-cracking conundrums have had hidden solutions within the main puzzle for top-notch spy wannabes to crack and stand out from the humdrum candidates. The masters of misdirection may well be diverting attention from the Bond-esque lifestyle they reallyoffers. ®

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