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Making cyberspace a safer place

19 July 2017

Cyber challenge
Participants in the cyber challenge must repel attacks and secure at-risk systems.

Director of the GCSB (the Government Communications Security Bureau) Andrew Hampton told participants in the New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge that a few years ago people were told that if they didn’t put cyber security on the agenda then it would become the agenda, and now it has.

Mr Hampton was speaking at last weekend’s cyber challenge hosted by University of Waikato, where participants were required to hack into computer programs, evaluate cyber policies, repel attacks and secure at-risk systems.

Numbers taking part in the New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge have more than doubled year on year since it was established in 2014 by head of cyber security lab at Waikato Associate Professor Ryan Ko and student Grace Nolan, then-chairperson of the Computer Science Students Society (CS3).

This year’s event attracted 460 participants from all over New Zealand going through a series of online challenges before 180 were selected for the finals in Hamilton.

The teams were first given a scenario – a “rogue AI (Artificial Intelligence) cyber monkey” trying to take over the world – and were then asked to complete a series of challenges, racing against time to come up with solutions. There was also a policy round where participants had to assess the applicability and effectiveness of different cyber security policies. In the final round, the top five teams’ three servers (web, file and email) were inundated with attacks designed by students and experts from industry. The participants had to withstand the onslaught for two hours and keep their machines running successfully.

“It was a big ask,” says Dr Ko, “and some people couldn’t endure the lengthy challenge, but we were impressed by those who did.”

The overall winning team was Arcton, which also won the event last year. Nathaniel Watson, Jeremy Symon and Grady Hooker are University of Waikato alumni – Jeremy is a Sir William Gallagher Cyber Security Scholarship holder. Software engineering student Michael Robertson and his teammate Brent Vollebregt were runners up and winners of the tertiary category.

The industry team winners were JD 2 (Daniel Tebbutt, Declan ter Veer-Burke, Jack Haystead), and high school category winners were twins Josh Hogan and Sam Hogan from Cambridge High School. Sean Dickey, Tristin Weastell and Samuel Sandri from Mount Aspiring College came in second for the high school category.

Co-organiser Meena Mungro says participants take away the importance of implementing security best practice. “And they increase their ability to develop secure software applications, having been taught how to compromise vulnerable web servers in a controlled and safe environment.”

The challenge is well supported by New Zealand and international industry and government organisations, including Endace, Internet NZ, ASB, Aura InfoSec, Datacom, Gallagher, Insomnia, DTA, Quantum Security, Lateral Security, Deloitte, ZX Security,  GCSB, New Zealand Defence Force, National Cyber Policy Office (Connect Smart), NICT Japan, and INTERPOL; and from the University of Waikato, CROW and CS3.

New GCSB scholarship for women in STEM

During the weekend challenge, GCSB’s Andrew Hampton announced a new $10,000 scholarship for women, in an effort to attract more females into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. To be eligible, applicants need to be over 18 and have enrolled or have been accepted to enrol in a full-time degree majoring in any of those subjects.

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