The National Crime Agency (NCA) is the UK’s leading law enforcement agency and is tasked to protect the UK from serious, high risk, and organized crime. In addition to traditional crime the NCA leads the UK response to cybercrime.
Part of the NCA’s Prevent response to cybercrime is the Cyber Choices campaign. This is a national initiative to help young people make more informed decisions and to use and develop their technical skills in an ethical manner, without inadvertently crossing the line into illegal activity.
The NCA reported in 2017 that around 61% of hackers are already developing their skills by the age of 16. In 2015, the average age of suspects and arrests in cybercrime investigations was just 17, compared to the average age of 37 in traditional crime investigations. The skill barrier for cybercrime is lower than ever, with off-the-shelf hacking tools and guides readily available online and requiring little technical expertise to utilise.
With a national lockdown taking place due to the coronavirus pandemic and the summer holidays fast approaching, the NCA wanted to provide a safe space for cyber savvy 13–18 year olds to develop their technical abilities, while promoting legal and ethical opportunities in the field to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Immersive Labs provided more than 100 labs for the Cyber4Summer program with a bespoke curriculum that supported the NCA’s coronavirus response efforts. Launched in July, the initiative was made nationwide over the three months of the summer holidays and covered a broad range of cybersecurity themes, skill sets, and hands-on, practical cyber elements rather than simply awareness tips.
Topics included staying safe online, encoding, and encryption, as well as the ins and outs of red (attack) and blue (defense) team groups. Three capture-the-flag (CTF) challenges were also included for students to tackle, aligning with the role of a cybercrime investigator to give some industry context to their practice.
“We’re really pleased to have partnered with Immersive Labs on this offering for young people at a critical time in their development. The real-life, simulated courses focus on engaging content that will help them to build their cyber skills in a safe and legal environment, preparing them for potential cyber careers in the future.” — Jim Stokely, Deputy Director of the NCA’ National Cyber Crime Unit
Immersive Labs provided a unique registration page and URL for Cyber4Summer users and worked closely with the NCA to monitor learning trends and activity on the platform. In addition, for security purposes, Immersive Labs turned off the global leaderboard to facilitate hosting minors so that individuals could not be identified.
The tailored curriculum was divided into three objectives, each accompanied by a friendly description and adapted graphics to appeal to younger, less experienced audiences. The game mechanics added extra motivation for users to gain more points and continue daily streaks. This gamified yet realistic element added an engaging and fun aspect to the training, helping to keep young people on an ethical cyber path and potentially preparing them for future careers in the cybersecurity realm.