Cyber 9/12: A Challenge for All Future Policymakers

By: Digital and Cyber Group at Columbia University

If there’s anything that can be said about December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001, it is that the events that unfolded were, at the time, considered improbable. No one could have imagined it, and yet, we now live in a world that has been shaped by the events of both Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

The term ‘Digital Pearl Harbor’ first originated from Richard Clarke in 2000. This term has since evolved into the more contextually relevant ‘Cyber 9/11’, in which policymakers and lawmakers caution the possibility of the next catastrophic attack through cyberspace, which will transform the world as we know it. They asked what response could there be the day after this ‘Cyber 9/11’?

The Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge, established by Jason Healey and the Atlantic Council in 2012, invites students -- future policymakers and leaders -- to respond to that very question. Now in its eighth year, the Cyber 9/12 challenge has spread to numerous countries around the world, encouraging students, and cities, to consider cyber issues and how we can solve them.

As hosts of the NYC Challenge, SIPA’s Digital and Cyber Group invites students from across Columbia University and beyond to assemble teams of four and bring their best, competing ideas to the competition. Cyber & Tech policy is routinely shaped by those involved in hard, strategic thinking. We hope to see academically diverse teams bring an understanding of issues in human rights, privacy, data regulations, digital inclusion, diplomacy, emergency response and more, to represent the best of SIPA: collaboration and interdisciplinary policymaking.  

Today, cyber conflict is becoming far more tangible -- especially to those involved in security studies. We are witnessing administrative adjustments, organizational changes, and policy directives that aim to give the United States a stronger strategic position in the event of a full-scale cyber conflict. Meanwhile, the private sector is several steps ahead in defending itself against adversary meddling, with major institutions housing their own divisions of threat intelligence.

At face value, the Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge may seem like a cybersecurity simulation. That would, however, oversimplify what you can learn from the event. Teams frequently take the role of non-technical policymakers briefing the highest echelons of the U.S. government, presenting a range of recommendations -- military, strategic, diplomatic, and more. The tools to navigate and guide the country through this fictional catastrophe rests on the knowledge and imagination that you and your team put forward.

Last year, the Cyber 9/12 NYC Challenge brought together more than 25 teams from across the United States. Teams were challenged with a scenario involving a compromised aircraft guidance system, and as participants deliberated on how to solve the crisis, they had to find effective ways to communicate with a terrified population. Moving into the finals, teams from West Point, Harvard, and SIPA, faced an escalation that brought about a tense standoff with a fictional cyber capable nation. The scenario ended with a SIPA team emerging as winners of the competition, and it is our hope that SIPA will continue that competitive legacy.

Sign ups are now open! Join us November 8-9th.

You can find more details on the NYC Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge on CampusGroups