Cyber experts battle zombie outbreak

8 September 2014

Cyber challenge

Battle lines: Cyber challenge organisers, from left, Grace Nolan, Baden Delamore, Sam Hegarty, Alan Tan and Dr Ryan Ko.

Cyber security experts will be put to the test next week when a staged zombie apocalypse will see them trying to access secure networks in search of an antidote.

While cyber security challenges are held regularly overseas, it will be the first university-initiated challenge held in New Zealand and the director of the only cyber security lab in the country, Dr Ryan Ko, says it will test the skills of those taking part as much as those organising it.

Students from undergraduate, masters and PhD level will take part in the challenge, which is being held over two days on 18-19 September at the University of Waikato.

A first in New Zealand for cyber security

The University of Waikato offers New Zealand’s only masters degree in cyber security and CROW (Cyber security Researchers of Waikato) is the only cyber security lab in the country.

The challenge is the brainchild of Dr Ko and fourth year student Grace Nolan, who says it came up in a discussion about ways to increase the profile of cyber security as both a subject and a career.

“I was thinking about various things we could do with students to get them interested and it was one of many things we talked about,” she says.

The challenge has the backing of the cyber security industry and experts from sponsors Aura Information Security and PwC will be on hand to offer advice to participants and discuss career opportunities. Lateral Security, Insomnia and the organisers of Kiwicon are also sponsoring the event.

It is also being backed by ConnectSmart initiative, the government’s cyber security awareness campaign launched by the National Cyber Policy Office.

Expecting strong participation

Dr Ko expects about 40 people to take part in the inaugural challenge and in future years hope to open it to students from other institutions along with interested members of the public.

A cyber security challenge held in the UK in 2011 had been won by a postie.

Dr Ko says much of the work organising the challenge had been done by students.

“A lot of credit goes to the graduate students from the Cyber Security Lab, Alan Tan and Baden Delamore, and Grace Nolan, Sam Hegarty and Jessamy Topping from the Computer Science Students Society.

Day one

Day one of the challenge will include training sessions for participants along with talks about the cyber security industry.

PhD student Alan Tan hopes that the combination of public talks, networking sessions and the challenge will create an awareness of cyber security risks.

Demand for cyber security experts is growing at 3.5 times the pace of the overall IT job market and 12 times faster than the total labour market internationally and the cyber security market is expected to grow to $94 billion in 2017.

Day two

Day two of the challenge will see participants use their security skills and knowledge to take part in a fictional scenario where they must breach security measures to capture tokens. The winners may receive prizes such as a tablet and Raspberry Pis provided by sponsors.

Talented students may also be scouted for internships with the sponsoring companies. Dr Ko believes that this challenge will build a network for both students and industry.

Industry leads

“We want to create a platform which enables the industry experts to quickly identify talent, and for our students to show what they can do through the competition and networking sessions” he says.

Masters student Baden Delamore, the main architect of the scenarios, says while it can be satisfying successfully breaching a site’s security measures, defending a site is more challenging.

“Attackers only need to find one hole, defenders need to know the whole thing inside out,” he says.

For full details about the cyber security challenge, or to register, visit