The Geneva Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge is a highly acclaimed international competition designed to provide senior university students with a deeper understanding of the strategic and policy challenges associated with escalating cyber incidents and potential cyber conflict. The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) and the Atlantic Council hosted the Challenge. The multistage scenario exercise requires teams to respond to a realistic, evolving, multinational cyber security incident. Competitors must analyse and respond to the threats posed to national, international, and private sector interests. This year, the competition included teams from Africa for the first time. Teams hail from the World's top universities and service academies and entry is a competitive process requiring a team essay submission after which the top 30 teams are selected to compete. 50 Judges from top global companies, academia and governments provide the teams with rare insights into the real world of global cyber threats and how to respond and mitigate against such threats.
The South African Military Academy team 'Cyber Soldiers' was one of only four African teams selected for entry into the competition. 'Cyber Soldiers' sprung a major surprise and progressed to the semi-finals where they were the last African team standing. In doing so they beat highly experienced teams and in addition finished as the top military team. This is a considerable achievement for a first-time team and coach. The Competition is fought over 48 hours of updated scenario challenges with elimination rounds featuring tough competitors, lots of pressure and extraordinarily little sleep. Each team presents to panels of 4 international judges in each round. The judges assess and critique the teams' responses. The competition tests the teams' geostrategic and cyber knowledge, agility, commitment, and presentation/public speaking skills.
The 'Cyber Soldiers' team members are Maj Sifiso Masuku, Lt (SAN) Thobile Lorencia Netshivhazwaulu, S Lt Prince Dimakatso Mphaka and Lt (SAN) G.J. Jansen van Rensburg. The team was coached by Lt Col (Dr) Susan Henrico, the Dept of Strategic Studies. The role of the coach is to mentor the team and Lt Col Henrico took on this task with enthusiasm and built a fantastic esprit de corps in the team.
The Team Speaks – “cyber security is the responsibility of everybody who uses cyber space and critical infrastructures"
How did the team members enjoy the competition and what did they learn?
“For me, the competition allowed us to fully appreciate the skill sets each member of the team brought. This became even more important in light of the loadshedding we've had to cope with. The competition taught us to consider solutions that would suit a complex environment within which we live." Maj Masuku
“The competition brought to light, for me at least, the nuances involved in cyber security. If not for my fellow team members I would not have been able to consider half the implications of the recommendations, I thought off. This competition, but more so, my teammates, again underlined the value of working together, relying on each other, and considering all inputs when accomplishing a task. It also showed how cyberspace is not confined to one domain, but that strategy and history students can also contribute and learn from competitions such as these." Lt (SAN) Janse van Rensburg
“As a team, we learned about the effects and the intricacies associated with cyber security at national, continental, and international levels. From this, as a history student I learnt that cyber security is the responsibility of everybody who uses cyber space and critical infrastructures. The competition practically made me appreciate the convenience brought by such. The team managed to get to the semi-finals and assumed position 7 in an international competition despite the great distance lying between team members which warranted sheer reliance of remote communication. It left me in awe of my teammates, coming from different fields of study who I learned so much from." (S Lt Netshivhazwaulu)
“This competition truly offers our students a unique and highly relevant opportunity not only to test their current cyber knowledge, but also to research the topic and learn from the international cyber community. Our students (who did this competition during their free time) were extremely committed and I was really impressed with their ability to work effectively as a team even though they were not even located at the same place. These students had all their team meetings online, well into the early morning hours and had to struggle through loadshedding schedules. They were confident in their presentations and included all relevant Cyber policies and strategies. I want to congratulate them on their character as soldiers and as 'Cyber Soldiers!' I salute you!" (Lt Col (Dr) Henrico)
The Academy's presence at the competition was rounded off by Ms Noelle van der Waag, Dept of Strategic Studies, who was one of the Final Round judges. This is an immense honour as only the top four of all participating judges are selected to judge the final round of the competition.
The Military Academy will be back next year to compete for Gold – 2023 will take place on the ground in Geneva so the immediate focus is to secure a sponsorship to get the team to Geneva. The lessons learned from this experience will be utilised in next year's Challenge preparations and stand the Military Academy in good stead. The Military Academy is immensely proud of the team's journey – the Cyber Soldiers have set a high benchmark for future South African teams. Finally, the Unit's success underlines the importance and quality of the growing Cyber and Space Program at the Military Academy. The experience gained from such events lies at the core of our ultimate mission – preparing our future leaders to fight and win in cyberspace.