Test your cyber security skills… with pizza

Solving crime in the cyber security world makes for hungry work. Lucky there's pizza. Image: WACTF

Love playing games and solving puzzles? In cyber security challenges, students can see what it’s like to pit their wits against intriguing cyber challenges. Oh, and also get endless soft drinks and pizza. 

In a Cyber Security Challenge you must decrypt, decipher, break and hack your way through a series of goals, typically gaining ‘flags’ at each point.

This can mean solving number or word puzzles, going into the code behind websites or images, cryptography, searching through posts for clues and even using ethical hacking practices to locate real-world missing people, as was the case in a recent Western Australian Capture the Flag (WACTF) event.

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“All of the challenges presented are built off real-world scenarios that Perth security practitioners have come across,” says Aaron Doggett, organiser of WACTF and regional director of cyber security consultancy Hivint.

“The aim isn’t to expose people to theoretical problems, but to show them the types of things that penetration testers, analysts, forensics consultants and more face. So, if you enjoy what you see, you may well like the career path too,” he says.

The two-day event brings high school, TAFE and uni students together with IT professionals, or those with an interest in IT.

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 “WACTF also promotes teamwork and the bringing together of people with different skills, approaches and general perspective,” says Aaron.

Like a challenge?

Perth teacher Donna Buckley, Assistant Head of Mathematics at John Curtin College of the Arts says students were very engaged. “It wasn’t always the kids who did well in tests – critical thinking, curiosity and persistence were some of the skills they really needed,” Donna says. High school student Orlando Morris-Johnson from Perth Modern School has done two CTF events. “You work on everything hacking-wise: reverse engineering programs, breaking encryption and much more,” Orlando says.

There’s a host of cyber security challenges to look out for. Daisy Sinclair is founder and CEO of Cyber8Lab one of the companies that runs the Regional Cyber Challenge – an event that pits international teams against hypothetical attackers in an Incident Response Challenge.

John Curtin College’s Donna Buckley with one of her students. Image: John Curtin College

“The Regional Cyber Challenge gives you invaluable experience which demonstrates hands-on processes required to respond to cyber attack and defending your network at the same time,” Daisy says.

Imran Esack Dawoodjee from Asia Pacific University of Technology and Innovation, Malaysia was on 2019’s winning team, Shellhound. “The challenges themselves provided to us during the competition were very interesting, employing a mix of skills from different disciplines in cyber security,” says Imran.

“For example we were asked to analyse an email that was possibly malicious,” he says. “Digital forensics, malware analysis and software reverse engineering all came in handy while solving that challenge.”

“The human side of things is not so straightforward and much more insidious: for every wrong flag we submitted, we’d have marks deducted,” Imran explains. “It really hammered home that defenders can’t afford to make mistakes lest more people be hurt.”

Find a Challenge!

CSIRO’s CyberTaipan
Regional CyberChallange

This article originally appears in Careers With STEM: Cyber Security 2020, on the bonus flip cover of our Careers with STEM: Tech 2020 issue.

Heather Catchpole

Author: Heather Catchpole

Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs


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