Engaging the next generation of cyber defenders

NSW Government

Beginning in late 2023, Retrospect Labs partnered with the New South Wales (NSW) Government to deliver a series of Capture the Flag (CTF) style Incident Response events for NSW high school students who were studying – or interested in – cyber security.  

Retrospect Labs is always looking for opportunities to give back and encourage more people to consider a career in cyber security – so it was great to be able to partner with NSW Government to deliver these events.

The key aim of the initiative was to increase and diversify the talent pipeline. The partnership with Investment NSW, NSW Department of Education, and Cyber Security NSW was a fantastic opportunity for us to help students visualise and experience cyber security roles.  

To date, Retrospect Labs has delivered four events, supported by Investment NSW and in collaboration with Training Services NSW:

  • a two-day event in Sydney for girls from local Sydney schools
  • a two-day event in Broken Hill for year 11 and 12 students from regional NSW
  • a one-day event in Sydney for year 11 and 12 students
  • a one-day event in Sydney for teachers - so they know what their students are tackling!

The program includes students from different backgrounds, genders and regions, and people with disabilities. Cyber security requires diverse perspectives, and having professionals distributed across the country helps keep more Australian communities cyber safe.  

Around 100 NSW school students have participated in the program. It has been fantastic to see their confidence grow as the CTF progresses; after the event, many students who knew little about cyber security said they are now considering careers in the industry.  

What are CTF Events?

Capture the Flag events are fun, semi-competitive cyber security exercises that teach participants practical skills in a safe and controlled environment. These events simulate a range of incidents and threat types, where participants must investigate and respond to malicious activity.  

For high school students, the CTF-based exercises we run are also about education. We include lab guides to walk students step by step through what they need to do to understand what has happened.

Incident Response: The Real-World Connection

Incident response is a key discipline of cyber security. It involves identifying, managing, responding to, and mitigating damage caused by cyber attacks. Integrating incident response into CTFs gives students a glimpse into the challenges real-world responders face. Through different scenarios, students perform tasks that mimic the actions that responders take when responding to threats.  

Each scenario reflects a different level of skill and knowledge. This means that all students have the chance to learn from the event.


Our main goals for these events are to:

  • educate students on the basics of cyber threats and defences
  • inspire students to consider a career in cyber security
  • help students identify potential career pathways within the industry
  • develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and how they apply in a cyber context and
  • encourage teamwork and effective communication.

Based on some of the feedback we've received, we think we've achieved this!

"I just want to reach out and give you a big thank you from my schools and particularly myself for the amazing opportunity given to our students.

The commitment from all 3 of you while out here has resulted in some amazing feedback from students to me face to face even at places like Coles and Macca’s.

‍[Can’t] wait to see if outcomes for careers are generated from this exposure piece offered to our remote and very remote students"

Lianne McManus, Senior Project Officer, Regional Industry Education Partnerships (RIEP), Far West Region – Training Services NSW

The Importance of Mentorship

At each event, we make sure we have some experienced cyber security professionals to support and mentor students. They provide fascinating insights and encouragement, and demonstrate potential pathways for students who may be interested in the field. This helps students build their curiosity and confidence.  

We've had some wonderful mentors give up their time to join us, including Charlotte Davidson (Director, Policy, Awareness and Research at Cyber Security NSW) and Ivy Magno (Security Analyst at CCNCA). You can check out a short video of Charlotte and Ivy at these events.  

"Promoting cyber security as a career for young people is vital to the growth of the sector. Providing an opportunity for high school students to work on interesting and realistic response exercises offers them an understanding of the industry, and gives that hands-on experience which attracts people to a career in cyber security"

Charlotte Davidson, Director, Policy, Awareness and Research, Cyber Security NSW

Partnership with Investment NSW

None of this work could have happened without the support of the outstanding team at Investment NSW, who have really driven the adoption of these CTF events. The team’s dedication has been instrumental to the program’s success and demonstrates what a strong partnership between different organisations can look like. We have worked together as one team, focused on the success of every teacher and student.  

It’s wonderful to see a state government interested in and supporting future generations of cyber defenders, and we're proud to play a small role in their journey.

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