Call for Competitors: The ‘Austin Regional’ of the Atlantic Council’s Cyber 9/12 Strategy Competition at the Strauss Center

By Robert Chesney
Tuesday, November 13, 2018, 10:35 AM

Are you a current student who enjoys wrestling with the policy aspects of cybersecurity, especially insofar as they implicate national security and international relations? Thinking about forming a team to compete in the Atlantic Council’s amazing “Cyber 9/12” Strategy Competition in D.C. in the spring? And do you like tacos? If you answered at least two out of three of these questions with yes, then you will want to plan on a trip to UT-Austin in January for the stand-alone “Austin Regional” of the Cyber 9/12 event!

I’m very excited to report that the Robert Strauss Center at The University of Texas at Austin is partnering with the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative to host a stand-alone “regional” round of the Atlantic Council’s renowned cybersecurity policy competition. The event will take place at the University of Texas School of Law on Jan. 10 and 11, with up to 20 teams vying for a title that includes not just bragging rights but also a cash prize for the top three teams (not to mention a deeply enriching learning experience for all participants). Included in the two-day event will be a keynote speaker, as well as opportunities for professional development.

All the details you need appear below (and also here on the Strauss site). Please consider assembling a team and applying by Nov. 30, and definitely spread the word far and wide.

How does the competition work?

This is a simulation-based, judge-graded competition in which teams consisting of three to four students (who can be either graduate students or undergraduate students, from any disciplinary background) collaborate to provide policy analysis and recommendations in response to an evolving, fictional fact-pattern relating to cyber crisis and conflict. The competition is designed to reward substantive knowledge across a range of areas, including any number of policy domains as well as insights from technology, business, and law. And of course the competition also rewards both written and spoken communication skills. The event is on the record and proceedings may be photographed and recorded for public use.

More specifically:

The competition revolves around a fictional simulated cyberattack scenario that evolves over the course of the competition, prompting teams to modify their policy priorities and recommendations as part of their written and oral presentations. We will distribute a set of fictional materials explaining the initial version of the scenario (along with guidelines for drafting the written response that teams must submit prior to the competition) on the same day that we announce which teams have been selected to participate in the competition: Monday, Dec. 3.

Each teams will draft written policy briefs in response to this initial scenario, and those written responses must be submitted no later than Friday, Jan. 4 (normally the competition provides a two-week window for submission of the initial written policy brief, but mindful of both finals and holiday travel we have opted for a one-month window in order to give teams the most flexibility we can). The written submissions will be scored as part of the grade for the first round of the competition (and recognition will be given to the best written submission). The rest of the first-round grade will be determined by the oral presentations that will then occur on the competition’s first live day (Thursday, Jan. 10). The oral presentation for each team begins with a ten-minute presentation to judges based on the written brief, followed by ten minutes of answering questions from the judges. The judges' score of the qualifying round oral presentations will be combined with the team score from the more detailed written policy brief submitted in advance of the competition, and approximately ten teams will advance to the semi-final round on day two based on those combined results.

We will announce the semi-finalists at a reception at the end of day one, and at that point we also will distribute an updated intelligence report that expands upon the original scenario. The semifinalist teams will then have the evening to refine and amend their analysis as they deem appropriate, with a new round of oral presentations taking place beginning on the morning of day two. Three finalist teams will be selected based on the results of that round, and at that point they will receive a third and final intelligence report, detailing further changes to the scenario. The finalist teams will have only a very short amount of time to use the new information to revise their policy responses. The finalists then will deliver a ten minute oral presentation, followed by ten minutes to answer direct questions from a panel of judges.

Who can participate?

You apply as a team. Each team must have at least three, but no more than four, student members. Anyone who is a current student at the graduate or undergraduate level, without respect to the nature of your degree program, qualifies. Each team also must identify a faculty member or other professional who will serve as their coach. The coach need not attend the live component of the event (at UT on Jan. 10 and 11) in person, though this is certainly welcome.

What is the prize?

There are cash prizes for the student members of all three teams that reach the final round of the competition. The overall winning team will receive a total $2,000 honorarium. The second-place team will receive $1,000. The third-place team will receive $500. The teams will decide for themselves how to divide those prizes, of course. The student members of all three finalist teams also will receive a starter-library of cybersecurity-related books.

Deadline to apply?

You must apply as a team. The deadline is Friday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. Central time.

How to apply?

Use this link.

Do we have to pay to participate?

No, the event itself is free. The Strauss Center and the Atlantic Council will bear all costs for hosting and orchestrating it, including providing breakfast, lunch, and snacks on Jan. 10 and 11. Unfortunately, we cannot also fund travel, hotel, or other costs of getting to and staying in Austin for the event.

How does this relate to the “national” Atlantic Council competition?

The winning team is guaranteed admission to the national competition, hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, later in the spring. The other teams of course remain free to apply for admission to the national competition as well. Note that this year will be the seventh year for the national competition. For more details on the national competition, click here.

I have other questions. Whom can I contact?

See the rules for the competition, as well as see the FAQ’s if you have any additional questions. For further questions about the Austin regional (including to request permission to attend simply as an observer), please contact Ali Prince from the Strauss Center.