2020/07/15The Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge: what is at stake ?

By the Strategy Challenge team

The ‘Cyber 9/12’ Strategy Challenge

For the third consecutive year, the FIC will host, on 19, 20 and 21 January 2021, the French edition of the ‘Cyber 9/12’ Strategy Challenge, co-organized by the Atlantic Council, the GEODE project (Paris 8 University) and CEIS. Last year, the 2020 edition pitted a dozen teams of French and American higher education students against each other, until the American team from the West Point Military Academy brought home the first prize, at the end of an eventful final. After three days (and three nights!) of competition around a complex scenario that involved, among other adventures, the rescue of a satellite heading straight for the International Space Station, COMCYBER awarded the prizes to the winners and finalists alongside the other sponsors of the competition: the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Siemens, PwC, and Facebook.

The aim of ‘Cyber 9/12’ is to confront students from various academic backgrounds with a fictional cyber crisis scenario that evolves and grows over the three days of the competition. The four-student teams must propose public policy options for managing the crisis to a jury composed of experts from French or foreign public and private institutions, which represent the highest authorities of the French State for the purposes of the Challenge.

Organised around collective security issues, the Challenge allows students to mobilise their knowledge in terms of cybersecurity and the organization of cyber defence in France, Europe but also internationally. Frédérick Douzet is the organiser and sponsor of the competition for GEODE (, a research and training centre of the Paris 8 University dedicated to the strategic challenges of the digital revolution and pre-selected for the label “Clusters of Excellence” by the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. For her, the purpose is to “apply the theoretical knowledge that students have acquired to formulate responses to a crisis scenario that plunges them into the professional world and forces them to confront the complexity and multiple dimensions of cyber crises. This Challenge is an extremely stimulating and enriching training exercise for the participants, who almost always emerge with the desire to continue on this professional path. It is also an exciting educational challenge for our teaching team!

An ambitious scenario for the second French edition of the Challenge

In 2020, the scenario combined space and cyber issues. The students had to propose short, medium, and long-term solutions to a defence committee brought together to manage a crisis triggered by the hacking of a French military satellite. Competitors had to build their response strategy with the necessarily partial elements available to a decision-maker when making a choice: a hacked satellite threatening to hit foreign spacecraft, an on-board computer component purchased from an American company, or the suspicious intervention of a Chinese satellite. However, they had to remember to keep their feet on the ground by dealing with the terrestrial repercussions of the orbital hacking: the failure of a French armed intervention abroad, which put French diplomacy in a delicate position. The aim of the scenario was to get the students to adopt a global and multidisciplinary approach to international security and crisis management, which the organisers tried to mobilise when writing the scenarios prior to the competition – an exercise that takes almost an entire half-year. These scenarios must comply with specific characteristics.

Scenarios must first be original. While satellite cybersecurity issues are of vital importance to satellite operators, they remain underdeveloped in the academic literature and the media. Students must therefore, on the one hand, quickly grasp a little-known subject and, on the other hand, project the issues of international security and cybersecurity into a field that is unknown to most of them. Therefore, they had to use their ability to cross-reference and reconstruct multiple issues and to respond to them in an innovative way. Another difficulty laid in the technical dimension of the subject. The scenario contained many elements relating to the operation of satellites and satellite systems and the associated computer security problems. However, in order to brief public decision-makers in a limited amount of time, the students had to devote the 10 brief minutes of their presentation to a strategic analysis of the issues facing them in the scenario. This was a difficult exercise for students who were sometimes not used to speaking in public or to writing in English.

Scenarios also had to include a variety of actors involved and of France’s positions towards them. The scenario for the 2020 edition involved a broad panorama of stakeholders (French, European and international; state and private institutions), while distributing little information on their potential responsibility in the crisis. However, since France alone could not prevent the risk of a satellite collision, the students had to decide whether collaboration with a possible attacker, which implied physical access to the military satellite, was preferable to an accident. The issues of attribution and diplomatic reaction were thus at the heart of the scenario. The indirect involvement of an ally in the crisis, which was documented in the press, raised questions about the public position to be taken depending on the nature of diplomatic relations with the states involved.

Third edition from 19 to 21 January 2021

Applications to participate in the third edition of the Challenge, which will take place during the next FIC, will open in September 2020. The whole Challenge team is already mobilised to organise this event and looks forward to seeing you there to manage a major cyber crisis in Lille in January!