Taking on the world in cyber security

23 May 2022

A group of Waikato University computer science students have won a spot to compete in a global cyber security competition.

The five students have been sniffing around the backend of websites and solving puzzles, finessing their skills in the fine art of white hat hacking – and succeeding. Ethan McKee-Harris, Callum Riddle, Daniel Shepherd, Courtney Wilson and Stefenie Pickston made it through to the final rounds of an international cyber-security challenge, hosted by Imperial College in London. They will fly to the UK in early June.

“It’s not just a fun trip to the UK – although it definitely is that – it’s also a massive event weekend with an industry job fair at the same time. There are some great workshops and it’s a good opportunity to network and make international connections that will help build our future career.”

Between 50 and 100 teams from around the world took part in the online competition where teams had 24 hours to answer 15 questions of varying points value. The top 15 teams have been invited to the final in-person competition at Imperial College in London in early June. The five students from the Waikato University are the only New Zealanders to get through.

Ethan says at least half the team intend to stay in the cyber security space long term. Jobs in this space are plentiful and while many fall into the ‘not yet invented’ category, Ethan says he’s keen on going into risk management through ethical hacking – trying to break into company websites to find the weak spots and test employees.

Daniel Shepherd, Ethan McKee-Harris, Callum Riddle and Stefenie Pickston are on their way to London for an international cyber security challenge.

The competition is similar to that set out by the University of Waikato ahead of the annual cyber security challenge, which is hosted at the Hamilton campus in July. Ethan is no stranger to that competition, having won one of the rounds previously. He puts the experience of the national competition down to his success internationally.

“It provides a safe environment to learn about hacking and computer security. You don’t have to worry about breaking any laws.”

Ethan encourages anyone thinking about getting into ‘white hat’ or ethical hacking, to start with the national competition, particularly as there’s a dedicated high school division.

“Stay curious, poke around and learn how things work,” Ethan says. “Doing it through national competitions keeps you on the right side of the law, gives you real, practical, hands on experience and connects you to others who are interested in the same things you are.”

This research aligns with the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

Quality Education Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

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