Cyber security buffs tackle toughest online issues of our time

15 July 2020

Last week, 146 budding cyber security specialists from across New Zealand went head to head in a series of tough tasks as part of the New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge.

Now in its seventh year, the annual competition led by the Cybersecurity Researchers of Waikato (CROW) normally culminates in a two-day event held on campus in Hamilton, where finalists compete in a series of challenges.

Because of COVID-19, the entire event was run online this year with more than 500 people initially registering, 322 participating in the qualifying rounds in May, and 146 making it through to the finals last week.

The 2020 challenges centred on a theme of ransomware and included cryptography (writing and solving codes), steganography (concealing a file within another file), reverse engineering (deconstructing a design to decipher how it was built) and attacking and defending servers.

The event concluded with an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session via Zoom, hosted by four industry experts and widely attended.

Because of the online nature of the event, participants were required to compete as individuals, rather than as part of a team as in previous years.

Jamie McClymont from Wellington who was on the winning team in 2019, took out the top prize as the Grand Winner and also the industry/open category. Daniel Stokes, a current student at the University of Waikato, won the tertiary category and Zhiyuan Qi, from Auckland Grammar School, won the high school category.

Dr Vimal Kumar, who heads the Cyber Security Lab at the University of Waikato, says the University has gained a global reputation as a leader in the cyber security field.

“This annual, flagship event continues to attract some of the sharpest minds and gain momentum, year on year, which is great."

“We missed coming together in person for the final rounds, but we're glad we were still able to pull off a high-calibre and well-attended event with the help of Slack and Zoom.”

The 2020 participants included a mix of high school students, current tertiary students and those already working in the industry.

“The diverse make up creates a really unique dynamic,” says Dr Kumar. “Our youngest participants never fail to impress some of the more established industry experts and remind us there is real value in collaborating and bouncing around big, bold ideas.”

“Essentially, cyber security is about staying ahead of the game and constantly innovating. It's a fascinating and ever-evolving field, and it’s encouraging to see such strong interest coming through amongst young New Zealanders.”

“Keeping ourselves safe online, professionally and personally, has never been a more topical issue than right now – COVID-19 has brought this into sharp focus – and the skillsets of cyber security experts are highly sought after."

For more information about studying cyber security at Waikato visit Master of Cyber Security.

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