Cyber Discovery - my three year journey //


Small Beginnings

When I unearthed Cyber Discovery from a well placed Instagram advert, I had no idea of the impact that it would have on my life in so many ways. I remember testing out CyberStart Go, getting stuck for a little while on the assembly challenge and then finally solving it after compiling it and messing about with the registers. It was after this that I did a little digging about the programme and happened to come across the Cyber Discovery Community Discord - this supportive group of people kept me so motivated to pursue this programme and really changed my Cyber Discovery journey for the better.

I jumped into CyberStart Assess, racing to complete the fourteen challenges. In hindsight I need not have been so nervous about it, nor have rushed to do it so quickly... really that had no impact anyway! The sense of accomplishment after completing all of these challenges is something that I still feel when completing CTFs now; a truly wonderful feeling.

CyberStart Game

In my opinion, there is no better way to keep people motivated to ameliorate their cyber security skills than CyberStart Game. This environment presents fun challenges in increasing difficulty that slowly build up one's cyber security skills over a range of domains. Covering penetration testing, programming, forensics, and other miscellaneous skills, it really does have a bit of everything. All skill levels are supported and no-one is left behind.

I particularly liked the forensics 'base', which featured memory dumps, network forensics, hard drive disk forensics and steganography. Memory forensics were a highlight for me - volatility is a great piece of software even if volatility2 imageinfo does take forever!

The aforementioned Discord Community propelled me through this stage by enabling me to ask questions when I didn't understand something, and get help on topics I was new to. It really was a vital part of my CyberStart journey.

CyberStart Essentials & SANS Foundations

The first year that I completed CyberStart Essentials was invaluable. Essentials was a course that provided a great fundamental understanding into computer science and cyber security, covering a vast array of topics from CPU registers and computer hardware to TCP/IP and binary exploitation. This has only got better with SANS Foundations - a great course for those new to cyber security.

It was very rewarding to receive my Certificates of Distinction from CyberStart Essentials and the SANS Foundations Final Exam. Any news on that Essentials certificate verifier though?!

CyberStart Compete

Compete? Nope, swiftly moving on....

CyberStart Elite 2019

Receiving my email invitation to CyberStart Elite in 2019 was exhilarating - I was so proud of what I had achieved over that year and how much I had learnt. I took part in Elite at the University of Birmingham, doing the "Ethical Hacking Fundamentals" course. This was a condensed version of SANS' SEC560, and it was taught by two brilliant SANS instructors - Simon & Simon. I was really pleased to meet many of those that I had got to know online from the Cyber Discovery Community Discord, and quickly became good friends with many of them.

The hidden CTF playable throughout the course was great fun, and I really enjoyed practising my skills in this way. helloyou, anyone?

CyberStart Elite 2020

It was such a shame that CyberStart Elite 2020 couldn't take place in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. Given the choice between SANS courses SEC504 and FOR500, I chose to do SEC504 due to its breadth of topics. This was a really informative course, and each day the high quality teaching from Steve Anson left me feeling very content with what I had gained. I also enjoyed the opportunity to take part in this course at the same time as many of the friends I had made in the Cyber Discovery Community Discord, which meant we could share notes and thoughts about the content as we were traversing the huge books.

After the course, we had the opportunity to take the GIAC Certified Incident Handler examination. My first proctored online exam, this was a great experience. The two practice exams allowed me to check my knowledge before progressing to the real thing. We were part of the GCIH beta process, which meant that I had to wait about a month to get my result where normally it would be instant. However, this did mean that if we failed then we would get the opportunity to retake it after the beta period which helped comfort my fears.

Virtual Summer Camp (2021)

Due to funding issues I was really disappointed to hear that CyberStart Elite could not go ahead in 2021. However, the Cyber Discovery team were great to put on talks over a few days from industry leaders and, of course, James Lyne himself about different cyber security topics. They also ran the SANS Jupiter Rockets Europa CTF, in which I was really pleased to come joint first!

Tender renewal.....?

I'd known for a long time that the original tender for HMG Cyber Schools Programme was four years and non-renewable, but I simply couldn't bear the thought of Cyber Discovery disappearing. It's such a shame that, as of August 2021, there has been no replacement for this programme. I hope that in the future the government will restart this vital programme that can help so many students to find a pathway into cyber security.

What Next?

The Cyber Discovery programme has inspired me to pursue a Degree Apprenticeship in Cyber Security or Software Engineering - two fields that I am now so interested in. It has opened doors I never knew existed, and I could not be more grateful for the work of all the organisations (including SANS, DCMS, Helical Levity, Spinning Fox, Magnetic Rock just to name a few) involved that helped to make this happen.