I still can’t believe CYBERUK 2018 is over – after so much hard work and anticipation over many months, it seemed to be gone in a flash. We hope that everyone who came to CYBERUK enjoyed it as much as we did and that like us, you’re already planning to return next year!

One of the ways we hoped to make sure that everyone who came to CYBERUK did enjoy themselves, was to establish a Conduct Arbitration Team (our CATs) for the event. We brought the CATs together to enforce the event Code of Conduct so anybody who experienced anything at CYBERUK that made them feel unsafe, uncomfortable or excluded, could quickly get the right support. I had the privilege of leading the team – or, if you will, ‘being Top CAT’ – and I’ve written this post to tell you how the team came together, how we worked, what incidents we dealt with at CYBERUK, and how we handled them. This was a new thing for us and we learned a lot from it; if you are running an event and you want to do something similar to support your Code of Conduct, I hope it’s useful for you to read about how we did it this time.

How did we herd the CATs?

The CAT was a handpicked team of four, supported by the NCSC Events Lead and the NCSC Technical Director. We selected the CATs for their excellent communication skills, ability to think clearly and take sensible decisions in tense, emotive situations. The CATs operated according to documented Terms of Reference, which we discussed and agreed before the event.

During the event, our contact details were published on the NCSC stand and given to all event staff, so we could be quickly and easily summoned when needed. As a team, we stayed in touch regularly via our work phones and agreed that if any of us wanted to meet each other in person, we’d prioritise that ahead of other event commitments. This was because we knew we might be dealing with some very tricky situations; we didn’t want any team member to feel pressured to make big decisions alone, or to be isolated at a stressful time.

What incidents did the CATs handle?

Access to the event

We had one report of a delegate with additional physical needs who was unable to get a chair at a popular track session. In the end they sat on the floor at the back, and needed help to stand afterwards. As we received this report second-hand via another delegate, we can’t judge the full circumstances – did they ask another delegate for a seat, and were they refused? Did they approach event staff for help? Did they even consider it a problem to sit on the floor?

What will we do about this?

At future events, we’ll remind all delegates that event staff are happy to help anyone who needs extra assistance to access the event and be comfortable there, for whatever reason – please do ask.

Inappropriate/exclusionary language in event presentations

We got a few reports of inappropriate language or imagery in presentations. These were the most noticeable examples:

  • “I wouldn’t ask my mother to check the configs”
  • Presenters using predominantly ‘he’ rather than ‘she’ or ‘they’ in presentations, especially when referring to technical staff or leaders
  • “[object] is a b*tch”

Some may see this as a minor issue – and yes, individually these things aren’t disastrous, and we’re all grateful that they were the worst things the CATs had to deal with at CYBERUK. But inappropriate content makes some people feel unwelcome, and prevents them from participating fully – which makes it unacceptable to us. Some delegates did feel very strongly about the things they saw: one said “we are proactively doing all these steps to encourage diversity and then this happens and we go a few steps back”.

What will we do about this?

In future, we will produce a speakers’ pack which will remind speakers to:

  • use positive, inclusive language and imagery
  • avoid negative stereotypes eg women/older people not being very technical
  • balance ‘he’ with ‘she’, or use singular ‘they’ – which is arguably better much of the time anyway, as it is inclusive of those who don’t identify as ‘he’ or ‘she’

We’ll also emphasise:

  • Yes, you can still do jokes, use fun images and quirky ways of getting your point across – nobody wants boring talks! But we only want good jokes. Jokes that hurt members of our community aren’t good jokes.
  • Don’t worry that you’ll be hung, drawn and quartered if you accidentally say the wrong thing one time. Everyone slips up with language occasionally, especially under pressure – just do your best, apologise quickly if needed and move on.

What’s the verdict?

Overall, we’re pretty happy. Feedback and stats indicate that we succeeded in one of our main aims for the event: to use our Code of Conduct and its supporting mechanisms (including the CATs) to create an environment in which everyone felt safe and happy to attend and participate in CYBERUK. This is great news.

Under ‘nice problems to have’, we heard that for the first time ever, women had to queue for the loos:

As we all know, there are many hard problems in cyber security. We will only solve these problems by bringing our best team to the game – the team with the brightest talents from right across the cyber security community, in an environment where everyone can give of their best. At CYBERUK 2018 we saw some brilliant talks and many high-quality, animated discussions taking place among clever, motivated and engaged professionals – this is why we hold the event, why we really enjoy delivering it, and it’s the thing that above anything else, will help make the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online. We look forward to achieving even more at CYBERUK 2019. See you there!


Senior Specialist Lead for Advice and Guidance

Source: National Cyber Security Centre

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