By Bianca Nogrady
UNSW Australia’s winning streak in hacking competitions worldwide is helping to provide a more secure future for all.
You may not expect your uni to assign you a task like Mission: Impossible, but that’s just what’s happening for students of the UNSW cybersecurity course at the School of Computer Science and Engineering. Computer code is their weapon and their shield, and they are trained well.
Cyber Security Challenge Australia (CySCA) has been running for three years, and students from the UNSW cybersecurity course have dominated the prize pool and claimed first prize each time.
This celebrated hacking event is designed to excite, inspire and attract Australia’s most talented coders to become the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. It’s organised and conducted by the Australian Government and Telstra along with PwC Australia, ComBank, CISCO, Facebook, Microsoft and HackLabs.
Teams have 24 hours to hack into a series of increasingly secure systems, finding their weaknesses and exploiting them. Teams score points for how far into the systems they hack, how many systems they infiltrate, and the quality of their attacks. They earn extra points if they set up defences to keep other teams out. It’s about building better defences by understanding the mind of an attacker.
There’s also the chance to impress potential employers. John Cramb, who was on the 2014 winning team from the UNSW cybersecurity course, now works for PwC and is helping to coordinate the 2015 competition.
Richard Buckland heads up the UNSW cybersecurity course, and loves setting students challenges that teach the art of defence through the different methods of hack attack.
“Competitions are important because they give recognition to people, and are good at motivating and setting a standard,” he says. “You can’t defend unless you know what attackers will do and how they think.”
UNSW teaches cybersecurity from first year, training students to understand that even seemingly unimportant system flaws can be exploited by an attacker.
“So many of the vulnerabilities in security systems are low-level, and our students are very confident with them,” says Richard.
In 2014, UNSW Australia students placed fifth in the world in the qualifying round of the massive Black Hat hacking competition, run yearly in Las Vegas. The UNSW Australia team called themselves ‘9447’, in honour of their cybersecurity attack course code, COMP9447.
Why do the UNSW cybersecurity course?
Cybersecurity is now one of the hottest areas in computing, and demand for specialists outstrips supply. Huge tech companies like Google, major banks and large organisations – anyone with a website or system they want to protect – are all scrambling to hire cybersecurity specialists to protect them against criminal, malicious or even just frivolous attacks.
Hacking competitions attract some of the best computing minds from across the globe and are a hunting ground for recruiters. But, most of all, they’re fun – much like studying cybersecurity.
“It’s really popular with students because they have an incredible time,” says Richard. “They solve puzzles all day long. It’s exhilarating and rewarding.”
TO GET THERE: unsw.edu.au
Author: STEM Contributor
This article was written by a STEM Contributor for Careers with STEM. To learn more, please visit our contact page.