Amateur cybersleuths have been hunting malware, raising firewalls and fending off mock hacking attacks in a series of simulations supported by Britain’s eavesdropping agency, according to an article from the Associated Press.

These simulations are part of a project called the Cyber Security Challenge, which is intended to help solve the skills gap and lack of workforce in the cybersecurity sector that, according to former security minister Pauline Neville-Jones, “threatens the economic future of this country,” AP reports.

Four thousand participants spent weeks shoring up vulnerable home networks, cracking weak codes and searching through corrupted hard drives. The tests were designed by companies such as U.K. defense contractor QinetiQ and data security firm Sophos, and were supported by British signals intelligence agency GCHQ and Scotland Yard’s e-crimes unit, the article says. The British government is spending 650 million pounds (approximately $1 billion) to boost electronic defense, U.K. military forces recently opened a global cyber-operations center, and police announced the creation of three new regional cybercrime units in February.

The problem in the industry, claims event organizer Judy Baker, is that cybersecurity is not a frequent recommendation from high school guidance counselors and too few universities offer degrees in the field.

The competition was closed to cybersecurity professionals, so most participants were aspiring computer scientists, including the winner, 19-year-old Cambridge University student Jonathan Millican, AP reports.