UN, tech companies team up to host innovation contest

global security (welcomia/ 

A collection of tech companies seeking to push new cyber norms and the United Nations are launching a new initiative asking young entrepreneurs to develop technologies that will foster greater digital peace.

The Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a collection of more than 100 companies seeking to improve the security, stability and resilience of cyberspace, and the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs announced a partnership Dec. 3 to host “Digital Apps 4 Peace,” an open competition to “develop original technology-based solutions to both help limit the use of the internet as a domain of conflict and to increase the stability of our online environment.”

According to the organizers, the competition runs through July 30, 2020, and is open to teams of up to five people between the ages of 16 and 32. The focus on younger contestants aims to tap into newer forms of thinking around information security.

“We hope the contest will open up this important discussion on security in cyberspace to a new generation of innovative young minds from across the globe,” John Hering, the program manager for Microsoft’s Digital Diplomacy Team, said in an email. “The challenges facing cyberspace will require fresh thinking and dynamic new solutions, as well the attention and determination of the next generation of leaders.”

Despite the name, Digital Apps 4 Peace will consider “any software or hardware technology that will promote digital peace” or “make a positive contribution to the digital realm,” he said.

What does that mean? Hering told FCW the scope of the contest was left “intentionally broad to allow for a wide range of creative thinking.” He pointed to the emphasis organizations like the U.N. have put on pushing cyber hygiene, preventing harm to critical infrastructure and other confidence-building measures that promote responsible state behavior in cyberspace as overarching goals contestants should be focused on.

“Proposed technologies -- including hardware or software -- that could help reinforce or strengthen those or similar expectations would be in the spirit of the contest,” he said.

Submissions will be accepted starting in January and will be judged by technical and policy experts drawn from companies in the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, with a select number of teams picked to give a presentation at the U.N. in September 2020. The winning team will receive a $15,000 purse, with the second and third place teams receiving $10,000 and $5,000 respectively.

The Cybersecurity Tech Accord was formed last year with Microsoft, Facebook, Dell, Cisco and Symantec as early signatories. The group was created to provide a framework for industry to navigate the murky and uncertain ethical landscape governing how private companies collaborate with governments on cyber operations. Signatories pledge not to help governments launch cyber attacks against innocent civilians and to protect their users’ data and accounts. Since the group was formed, more than 130 companies have signed on.

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a senior staff writer at FCW, covering governmentwide IT policy, cybersecurity and a range of other federal technology issues.

Prior to joining FCW, Johnson was a freelance technology journalist. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

Johnson has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Hofstra University and a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. He can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @derekdoestech.

Click here for previous articles by Johnson.


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