A screenshot from inside Cyphinx with an avatar created by the writer
The UK has a cybersecurity skills gap, and it’s appealing to a specific demographic to fill it: gamers.
The Cyber Security Challenge UK, a programme backed by government and industry to identify and recruit promising infosec talent, has launched a new platform that aims to appeal to potential security experts in their natural habitat: a virtual world. Cyphinx is a “virtual skyscraper” that acts as a gateway to a host of different games, each of which is designed to test security-related skills at various difficulty levels.
“One of the things we’ve noticed in the last five years of doing [the Cyber Security Challenge] is that a lot of people who are very good at cybersecurity are also gamers,” explained Cyber Security Challenge CEO Stephanie Daman in a phone call. “It made us think a lot more about trying to reach out to the 30 million UK gamers out there, and doing it in a way that appealed to them from a gaming perspective but allowed us to introduce cybersecurity to them.”
The Cyphinx virtual skyscraper. Image: Cyber Security Challenge UK
The Cyphinx skyscraper was developed with the Serious Games International and was launched with a first slate of games on Tuesday. After signing up, users can build an avatar and find themselves in the skyscraper’s virtual lobby, Second Life-style. Jay Abbott, technical director of the Challenge, said the skyscraper has the concept of physics turned off so more and more levels can be added; the key feature is the lift, which acts as a “portal to worlds.”
On each floor you can walk around and interact with noticeboards and objects that lead to different games. These games are built by sponsors and enthusiasts of the Challenge, and essentially try to bring a more contemporary gaming feel to more conventional codebreaking puzzles.
Daman said she thought there was a confluence of traits that make gamers and security professionals: “It’s that urge to find out how something works, to pursue a trail, to get to the end, to see what’s there.”
The initial play-on-demand games include a Minecraft world containing hidden codes, a YouTube-based forensics task, and a more conventional network analysis game.
Screenshot of the Minecraft world. Image: Cyber Security Challenge UK
Whether Cyphinx will be enough to draw gamers away from their consoles remains to be seen, but Abbott said the main idea was to offer a platform that introduces the cybersecurity profession in an accessible environment, so people can engage “from cold.”
And as it’s built to be extensible, the virtual world could also evolve over time. “Day one we have a platform, but day two, day three, day four there’s no reason why we can’t have fully-immersive role-play–based content similar to other types of games that gamers are used to,” he said.
Of course, the end goal is to take players from gaming to actually pursuing a career in security. The game environment encourages this by awarding points and badges for completed tasks to put together leader boards in different skills, which can be used to help connect players to work or qualifications they might be suited to.
Partners in the Challenge can also have avatars in the skyscraper to interact directly with players, and could even post job listings in the virtual space. High scorers will also be pushed towards the Cyber Security Challenge’s existing real-world competitions and masterclasses.
Consider it a gamified job application.
Correction: This article initially incorrectly stated that the Cyphinx project was developed with Serious Games Institute. This has been corrected to Serious Games International.