What is the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge?

On November 2nd and 3rd 2018 Columbia University will be hosting a regional cyber policy competition known as the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge.  Started by Atlantic Council, Cyber 9/12 is a one-of-a-kind competition designed to provide students across academic disciplines with a deeper understanding of the policy challenges associated with cyber crisis and conflict.

The competition gives students a unique opportunity to interact with expert mentors and high-level cyber professionals while developing valuable skills in policy analysis and presentation. The students have to tackle challenges like assessing the impact of a major cyber attack, thinking through attribution and national responsibility, and response options for the President and private sector.

The event in November will feature two days of competition, key note speakers, technology demonstrations, and career networking opportunities.  Teams must be made up of four students representing one University, but can come from multiple schools or departments within that university. Each team should have a mentor from the faculty or a relevant doctoral program.




Read a success story from a previous 9/12 team here.

For the NYC Cyber 9/12 schedule and logistics, please visit our competition information page.

For general information, please see FAQs below. Alternatively, you may contact us directly at cyber912@sipadcg.org.



Q: Who can compete?
A: Students currently enrolled in an undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, professional, or law program, including students in military academies, on the date of the registration deadline are eligible to compete. We also welcome competitors who have participated in the Student Challenge in previous years. There is no explicit major, coursework, or prior experience in cyber conflict necessary to compete, but successful applicants will be able to demonstrate a strong link between cyber conflict policy and their current academic interest.

Q: Are there any requirements on team composition?  Do teams have to be from one department within a school?
A: Each team must include four students. Teams that register less than four competitors may be considered at the discretion of the Competition Director, space permitting. There are no requirements for team composition based on the majors or education level of team members.  We also strongly encourage schools to reach across departments to diversify their team’s specialties.

Each team must also recruit a faculty member to act as their team coach and mentor. While coaches are not required to take part in the competition event, their participation is necessary to ensure that all teams have access to assistance in crafting their responses.

Q: How do I register?
A: We will announce the opening of registration on SIPA’s Digital and Cyber Group website, as well as the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge Facebook page.  To be considered for the competition, interested teams must submit all registration materials, including all team information, by the registration deadline. After all registration materials have been received, teams selected to compete will receive invitations and competition materials. Teams registering late may be considered at the discretion of the Competition Director, space permitting.

Q: Can all registered teams take part in the competition?
A: Columbia University and the Atlantic Council reserve the right to limit the number of teams competing in the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge. If the amount of teams registering for the competition exceeds Columbia’s logistical capacity, written policy briefs will be analyzed through a blind review process and utilized to determine which teams qualify for the event. Should the review process become necessary, all registered teams will be notified as soon as possible.

Q: How is the competition structured?
A: One month before the competition, all registered teams receive Intelligence Report I, setting the stage for the simulated cyberattack. The teams are given approximately two weeks to prepare their written policy briefs.

The two days of the competition are divided into qualifying, semifinal, and final rounds. All teams submitting a written policy brief are entitled to participate in the qualifying round on the first competition day. Teams advancing to the semifinal round will be announced at an evening reception, where they receive Intelligence Report II, further adjusting the simulated scenario.

In the morning of the second day of the competition, semifinalist teams present their modified policy recommendations based on the evolved scenario. Teams advancing to the final round receive Intelligence Report III and very limited time to adjust their recommendations. In the afternoon of the second day, finalist teams present on a stage to a panel of celebrity judges. The competition concludes with an awards reception.

Q: Do teams have to stay for both days of the competition?
A: All teams that wish to participate for the second and third rounds of the competition must stay for both days.  We encourage all teams to stay for the second day of competition to support their fellow students and take advantage of the programming that will run on Saturday.

Q: What is the format of the competition?
A: The Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge consists of 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 successive oral presentations. All teams will submit written policy briefs in advance of the competition and compete in the qualifying competition round on day one. 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.

During the qualifying round on day one, teams will deliver a ten minute oral presentation based on the written policy briefs prepared before the competition, followed by ten minutes to answer direct questions from a panel of judges. Judges will then provide feedback and score the students based on their performances. At the qualifying awards reception, advancing teams will be given an intelligence report that further alters the original scenario.

During the semi-final round, advancing teams will deliver a ten minute oral presentation based on a new intelligence report received at the conclusion of day one, followed by ten minutes to answer direct questions from a panel of judges. Teams are given limited time to respond to the altered scenario, testing their ability to analyze information as a team and synthesize a response with limited preparation.

After the teams advancing to the final round are announced, the finalist teams will receive the third and final intelligence report, detailing further changes to the scenario. The teams are provided with a very short amount of time to use the new information to revise their policy responses. The finalists will deliver a ten minute oral presentation, followed by ten minutes to answer direct questions from a panel of judges.

Q: What tasks are part of the competition?
A: The competition will focus on a single fictional simulated cyberattack scenario described through several intelligence reports. The competition encompasses tasks, both written and oral, that challenge students to respond to the political, economic, and security problems created by the evolving cyberattack scenario. Teams will be provided with an intelligence report that sets the scene for the fictional cyberattack prior to the first competition day.

• Written Cyber Policy Brief: Teams will write a policy brief exploring the challenges faced by state, military, and industry actors related to the cyber incident described in the scenario materials. The brief must also recommend appropriate actions and policy responses for the actors involved. The brief is limited to five single-sided pages.

• Oral Cyber Policy Brief: Teams will be given ten minutes to present their policy recommendations, followed by ten minutes to answer direct questions from a panel of judges. More detailed instructions will be distributed to the teams selected for the competition.

• Decision Document: Teams will also be required to submit a “decision document” accompanying their oral presentation at the beginning of the semi-final competition round. The “decision document” will be two single-sided pages (one double-sided page) in length, outlining the team’s decision-making process and recommendations.

Q: Is there a required format for the oral briefing?
A: There is no requirement for the structure or format of presentations. Presentations are limited to ten minutes. Each team must decide how to best conduct their briefing.

Q: Can presentation aids be used for the oral presentations?
A: NO presentation aids (e.g., PowerPoint, props, and posters) are permitted. Teams will not be allowed to use electronic devices such as cellular phones and computers during the competition events, when teams are presenting or answering judge questions. However, teams may use electronic devices such as cellular phones and computers during the breaks between rounds. Paper notes are highly encouraged at all times during the competition.

Q: Can teams use charts in the written brief?
A: Graphs, images, tables, and other graphics are permitted, but count towards the five single-sided page limit. Submissions that exceed the maximum page will be penalized.

Q: What sources can I use to prepare my responses? How should these sources be cited?
A: Sources and citations are not required for the written policy response. If used, they will count toward the total page count.

Q: What prizes will be awarded?
A: There will be awards for the top performing teams based on score, as well as team awards for best written brief, best oral presentation, best teamwork, and most creative policy response alternative.

Q: What should I bring to the competition?
A: There are no restrictions on what teams may bring with them to the venue. However, during the competition rounds, no electronic assistance will be permitted. Teams are encouraged to use written or printed notes to help them during their presentations.