Ireland wins gold at cybersecurity challenge

Friday 21st June 2024

The team is now preparing for the WorldSkills International Cybersecurity Competition in Lyon this September.

An Irish team has triumphed at the Global Skills Challenge 2024, hosted by WorldSkills Australia. The team, comprising Mark Drinan and Luke Woodside, was mentored by Dr George O’Mahony from Munster Technological University, with the victory being Ireland's first in an official WorldSkills Cybersecurity Competition since its debut in 2021. 

The team is now preparing for the WorldSkills International Cybersecurity Competition in Lyon this September. As part of the Global Skills Challenge, the teams were put into the scenario of a real-world cyberattack on a fictitious company that was started based on a malicious USB and insider threat. 

Over three days the teams had to run digital forensics on an infected end-user computer, each team also had to create reports including a technical brief, a timeline of the cyberattack, a report for the media and a report for the board of directors. The competition was about accurately identifying what happened and providing real-world preventative measures and recommendations.

Team members Mark Drinan and Luke Woodside are graduates from the Cybersecurity Masters at MTU and an engineer at IBM, and a graduate from Technological University Shannon and managing director of Woodside Networks respectively. 

Dr George O’Mahony, cybersecurity lecturer and researcher at Cyber Skills at MTU, said: “This win is a great example of the work Ireland’s cybersecurity academics and experts are doing in preparing young Irish professionals to compete on the world stage. It highlights the calibre of talent being produced and the strong pipeline of skilled cybersecurity professionals available in Ireland. 

"The win is a great boost to the team and a big step along their training and upskilling journey. The work Mark and Luke have put in has been a testament to their drive and determination.” 

The team trained on and competed nationally using MTU’s Cyber Range, a state-of-the-art cybersecurity platform unique to Ireland enabling simulations of cyberattacks on virtual organisations, providing invaluable training for students, researchers, and industry professionals without risking real-world damage or outages. 

Mark Drinan said: “I am incredibly proud to represent my country and bring home a gold medal for Ireland. This medal represents Ireland's commitment to investing in high-quality, practical cybersecurity education.”

Michael Hourihan, WorldSkills Ireland official delegate, added: “This win highlights the positive outcomes that result when skills and technological careers are recognised and promoted at national and international levels.” 

Ray English, WorldSkills Ireland chair-technical delegate, said: “The Global Skills Challenge held in Melbourne and hosted by WorldSkills Australia was a great platform for the WorldSkills Ireland Team of Luke Woodside, Mark Drinan and cybersecurity expert George O’Mahony to test their preparedness for the Olympics of Skills in Lyon in September 2024. 

"We encourage ICT students to start their Skills Olympics journey by participating in the WorldSkills Ireland National Competitions this September, test your skills against the best nationally and possibly internationally.”

Earlier this year MTU launched Cyber Innovate, a €7m initiative designed to boost cybersecurity innovation and entrepreneurship, funded by the Enterprise Ireland Innovators' Initiative: Pioneering Smart Futures training programme. It will also create a stream of cybersecurity innovation graduates to strengthen the sector and enhance Ireland’s reputation as a global player in cybersecurity innovation. 

Each year Cyber Innovate will provide 12 to 15 participants with the necessary skills to evaluate, select and validate ideas for new products and services which will contribute to the creation of new cybersecurity start-ups and university spin-outs nationally. The initiative is grounded in industry needs and backed by academic rigour from MTU.