With cyber attacks a hot topic and cyber security skills in short supply, this year’s Cyber Security Challenge Australia showed RMIT students that while hacking is fun, it’s also serious business.
Launched in 2012, Cyber Security Challenge Australia (CySCA) is Australia’s only national ‘hacking’ competition, run by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and aimed at students in higher education to unearth the next generation of cyber security talent.
Taking place over 24 hours from 10-11 May and testing a variety of skills in cyber penetration and forensic analysis, this year’s competition was bigger than ever, with more teams from more institutions and 65 per cent more women participating since 2015.
Despite there being more competitors overall, including 78 teams from 25 higher education institutions, RMIT’s four teams put in their best ever performance, with three teams finishing in the top 15.
“It was really challenging, but really fun,” Shadforth said.
“We had to capture hidden ‘flags’ for different categories of challenges, ranging from network penetration testing, web application penetration testing, to forensics and reverse engineering, with each flag being simply a hidden word or phrase that is revealed when you successfully exploit a vulnerability in a system.”
“I enjoyed being able to work with the girls; we used each other’s strengths in different challenges, bounced ideas off each other, and supported each other throughout the 24 hours,” Cruz said.
“It was a huge challenge, but it was exciting catching flags and it felt great being able to apply everything we’d learnt over the last couple of months with the RMIT Information Security Collective.”
Dr Fengling Han leads RMIT's involvement with the Challenge and she credits the improved performance to the extra support and coaching from the Information Security Office at RMIT Information Technology Services (ITS).
“We had technical problems with the firewall and connection issues last time we entered, which affected our performance, but this year the support from ITS was terrific,” she said.
“They hosted the competition at their facilities and covered all the details: organising special training, providing all the monitors, even preparing a shower for the teams!”
CySCA is now a priority for RMIT’s Information Security Office, according to Senior Manager, Rick Wittman.
“This is the first time ITS has played an active role in assisting and supporting RMIT students to compete in the Cyber Challenge, but it will be a regular highlight of our calendar for 2018 and beyond,” he said.
“In addition to coaching, we provided the venue, computers, screens, open internet access, and plenty of food and drink over the 24-hour period.
“The objective is to bridge the gap between ITS and the students, to uplift RMIT’s capability in cyber security education, and to give students expert coaching in how to succeed in cyber challenges, both from our staff and business partners, who are some of the most highly regarded professionals in the cyber security field in Australia.”
The support did not go unnoticed by the students, especially those who had previously participated in CySCA.
Christopher Heuvel, who is in his second year of Computer Science, agreed that this year’s event was more challenging than past competitions, which made good IT support crucial.
“It was a step-up in difficulty from last time, hacking into servers, finding exploits, using a few tricks to gain higher access, but RMIT gave us greater support,” he said.
Although still studying, Heuvel is already working for Australian cyber security company Kustodian, but he sees competitions like CySCA as great ways to upskill and learn more about an area he’s passionate about.
“I live cyber security, so I enjoyed everything about the Challenge, including the banter with fellow students,” he said.
“My interests are in web and corporate pentesting (penetration testing), and I learnt a few new tricks to add to the arsenal, but the only thing you can do in the offensive security world is to 'try harder'.”
Ultimately, Wyrdeman hopes that the Challenge helps students learn new skills and showcase their talent to potential employers, so that Australia becomes better placed to ward off cyber attacks of the future.
“This year’s Challenge has taken what was already Australia’s largest cyber security competition and made it better,” Wyrdeman said.
“I know our sponsors see the opportunity to find their next cyber security hires in the competing teams and I look forward to learning of those who land their first roles due to their involvement in the Challenge.”
Story: Daniel Walder