Building Cyber Challenges – Where better than Bletchley Park?

Today saw the first running of the Cyber Security Challenge ‘Createathon’, a new concept designed to help build challenges for the brand new Play on Demand platform being released in the next few months. I think most people that attended would agree that the event was a real success; with a huge variety of participants from all kinds of backgrounds, from Cyber Challenge contestants, Whitehatters Academy alumni and a varying number of individuals from the industry. It was also great to see some younger faces getting involved too.

Everyone hard at work!

The day was really aimed at allowing everyone to collaborate in teams with the goal of coming up with interesting ideas for potential challenges. Even more kudos were on offer for those that went that bit further and actually began developing their own challenge(s). And to keep everyone topped up: Pizza, snacks and fruit were all on offer; including the obligatory coffee of course. Overall, an interesting concept that was well executed and well worth the effort.

After a few introductions, the day was firstly kicked off with a quick briefing, outlining the challenge requirements and suggesting tips and techniques to follow when planning out the stages of a challenge. The aim here was to help drive a more structured approach to designing a challenge, as opposed to throwing lots of different technicalities together with little thought. As described by Jay, it’s a little soul destroying to find someone completing your challenge within a matter of minutes, when there’s an expectation for it to take days.

As the creators got underway, each of the teams starting coming up with different ideas, bouncing them off team members and trying to string different parts together. I found it really makes a difference having someone to give a second opinion on a challenge idea – the fresh perspective really helps! I quickly swept through the room and spoke to a few of the teams about their ideas; all of which sounded really exciting. That resulting in giving me lots of different ideas for our own challenge, which I wanted to inject in some way or another. Thankfully, as I’m currently building another PoD challenge at the minute myself, I was able to get some inspiration to help me finish the final few challenges I had left.

The day included an extended lunch break, perfect for demolishing the seemingly endless supply of pizza, but more importantly to explore around the venue – Bletchley Park, or more specifically the National Museum of Computing. Before I go any further, I need to say a real big thank you to the museum for hosting the event, and making the whole day possible! I’m personally not really one for hugely appreciating history, but it was really fascinating to explore the array of offerings at the museum; I’d highly recommend anyone with an interest in computing check it out.

Never underestimate the necesity for pizza

As I ventured round I found myself drawn into the masses of classic video game systems and different tech, and Adam and I even found ourselves trying to fool an Kinect system into thinking we were one person with 4 arms. (It didn’t quite work and a brief explanation was necessary as one of the tour guides walked around the corner) I also found myself becoming a little distracted on a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) playing Super Mario Bros, only to be told by a young girl standing beside me how to take a shortcut and skip straight from World 1 to 4. I didn’t quite know how to interpret that; I thought I knew the game fairly well from my Wii playing days!

This is how you play Super Mario Bros

Aside from that, Peter was keen to show us some articles he’d written in some old computing magazines, none of which made much sense to me, but all of which looked really interesting! We also wrote a short BASIC program, and might have accidentally crashed one of the other systems. There were a whole array of machines, computers, electronics, and some fantastic discussions about their uses and history. Before long lunch was up, but I could easily have spent all afternoon exploring, playing, reading and listening to the guides talking about all the different tech. It’s scary to think of what we take for granted today.


The afternoon flowed really well, everyone got stuck into continuing the challenges, and for many that included starting to actually build them. Dave and myself were on the same team, and so when the time arose to start building the challenge, inevitably the Python had to come out. Within 30 minutes we had a really cool encoding script built (although Dave did the majority of the work) Wondering over to the other teams there was also some other cool work going on, including some Google Earth image overlays and some sound engineering (playing about with audacity) Its scary how effective a room full of different people can be when you give them such an open ended task and leave them to let their imagination go wild.

One of the resultant challenges - can you work it out? One of the resultant challenges - can you work it out?

To sum the day up, each of the teams gave a quick run through of their challenge. I won’t spoil the surprise, but there were a huge variety of different challenges that were presented, each with their own niche concepts. Overall, there were close to - if not more than - ten different challenges that had been started, and hopefully with a little drive from the Whitehatters Academy we can help to get them finished and ready for the release of PoD!

It was a great day out, fantastic venue and I’m really looking forward to repeating the event in a few months time. Finally, a big thank you to everyone that was involved! Your involvement was really appreciated. Anyone reading this that is interested in getting involved in helping to build challenges, please check out the Cyber Security Challenge website, or feel free to contact the Whitehatters Academy for more information.