Zurich – Five teams of students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) have taken part in a competition on defensive strategies against cyber threats, the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge 2020. In the end, the ETH teams took the top five spots after seeing off strong international competition.

In a press release issued by the university, ETH Zurich has described the results achieved by its five teams at the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge 2020, a competition organized by the Geneva Center for Security Policy and supported by the Atlantic Council, as a spectacular success and unprecedented winning streak. The competition involves devising specific defense solutions for evolving scenarios in connection with threats, dangers and cyber-attacks.

A cyber-attack has crippled Europe’s power grid. There is the threat of blackouts across the board, nuclear meltdowns and gas pipeline explosions. Although it is not yet clear who is behind this attack, social media disinformation campaigns are being conducted and international tensions are rising. This scenario of a major cyber-attack formed the starting point for the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge 2020. Overall, a total of 20 international teams took part in the competition to come up with the best solution. These included five teams of students from ETH Zurich, who took the top five places in addition to winning all the special prizes on offer in the challenge, which was held virtually due to the crisis association with the coronavirus pandemic.

The success enjoyed by the Zurich students was also down to the comprehensive preparation work by the Cyber Group, a student organization at ETH Zurich founded by seven participants from the Challenge 2019. Their aim was to prepare future ETH Zurich students to take part in the competition. Four-hour training sessions were held each week since February, granting the Challenge 2020 participants contact to experts from the fields of research, industry and politics. Karin Holzhauser and Robin Staab, Master’s students at the Department of Computer Science, are also overwhelmed by their success. “We hoped that one of our teams would make it to the finals”, comments Robin Staab, Co-Founder of the Cyber Group, in the press release, before adding: “The results exceeded all our expectations”.

ETH Zurich is particularly proud “that these performances resulted from a student-​led initiative”, explains Rector Sarah Springmann, in commenting on the success.

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