Jonathan Millican demonstrated knowledge "years beyond his time", said the judges of a competition run by GCHQ and various technology firms to find talent for tackling the new cyber security threats.
Millican won the competition after being invited to take part in a final series of challenges at HP Labs, involving six teams of five people competing against each other.
Even though his team was ultimately beaten by a rival at the event in Bristol, the judges felt that the skills he demonstrated deserved winning the top prize.
"He showed great leadership, strong technical abilities and also demonstrated that he understood the impact what he was doing would have on a business," said chief judge Adam Thompson, who works for Hewlett Packard.
Representatives from BT, consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers and security tech firm Qinetiq were also on the judging panel.
Millican, who is currently studying computer science at the University of Cambridge, has now been offered a paid follow-up Masters degree at Royal Holloway university. He has also been invited to visit GCHQ's Cheltenham base.
The competition comes following concerns over the growing threat of computer hacking and cyber-crime. Last week, six men - including two from the UK - were charged by the FBI with cyber-crimes said to have affected "over one million victims".
Following the action, the Antisec division of the Anonymous hacking movement launched a series of retaliatory attacks, as has been common in the battle between hackers and authorities.
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This weekend, James Jeffrey pleaded guilty to hacking the website of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. He is said to have executed the attack, including allegedly stealing details of people who had contacted the abortion provider, on ethical grounds.
Discussing the cyber-crime competition, GCHQ director general for cyber security Jonathan Hoyle 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."
Speaking to BBC News, Millican said that he was interested in the challenges posed by complex cyber-attacks, such as systems designed to gather information on key state and industry control systems.
"We're going into an age of cyberwarfare," he said. "Given all the critical systems we have in this country that are connected to the internet it's very important that there are experts out there that can keep people safe."
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