Teen tech genius wows British intelligence services

Jonathan Millican.
Jonathan Millican.

A TEENAGER from Harrogate with a talent for defeating hackers has been tipped as the next big thing in cyber security.

Jonathan Millican, of Pannal Ash, has been named champion in a national competition called the Cyber Security Challenge.

What makes the competition fascinating is that it’s all to do with computer hacking and is sponsored by a British intelligence agency - GCHQ, the UK Government Communications Headquarters.

“I’ve never really thought about cyber security,” said the 19-year-old student, who is still in his first year reading Computer Science at Jesus College, Cambridge.

“I’ve not decided yet what I want to do, but more and more since the challenge I’ve been thinking about cyber security.”

Thousands of entrants from across the country had taken part in a series of challenges and role plays over six months.

Jonathan had successfully navigated his way through the competition, taking part in a role-play exercise in the final round as an internet start-up company.

His team was then asked to try out a simulator to fend off real-time computer attacks and identify and eradicate real problems.

“My team wasn’t even the winning team,” said Jonathan. “I had thought I would be the weak link, I was the youngest and the least experienced.

“I didn’t have the knowledge the others did. I just tried to look at the bigger picture and see what the impact could be. I got lucky!”

Jonathan’s tale has now been told across the world’s media, his award featuring in the Washington Post and the Times of Oman, as well as the Guardian, Independent and the BBC.

The former Harrogate student, who went to Pannal Ash Primary School, was introduced to the world of computers by his father.

“My dad’s very computer savvy, he does a fair bit of programming,” he said.

“There’s always been computers around and he introduced me to computer programming when I was younger. I lost interest for a while but I got back into it in my teens.”

Jonathan’s big interest is web applications and he is currently creating a yearbook website for his former schools, Harrogate Grammar and St Aidan’s and St John Fisher Associated Sixth Form.

As winner of the cyber challenge, Jonathan has now been offered a paid for masters degree at the University of London and a tour of the communications intelligence agency GCHQ, sponsors of the challenge.

Judges said he had demonstrated knowledge “years beyond his time”.

Jonathan Hoyle, director general for cyber security at GCHQ said: “It is through initiatives such as this that organisations, be they in the public or private sector, can continue to develop and maintain our leading edge in cyberspace by being able to recruit the right people with the right skills.”

Last year’s winner Dan Summers, was a postman from Leeds. After winning the challenge, he quickly moved from delivering the post to keeping it safe as he became a part of Royal Mail’s own cyber security team.