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11th Annual Cyber Security Awareness Week Wrap-up

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On November 15, the 11th Annual Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) came to an official end. NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Pfizer Auditorium was full of winners. Specifically, hundreds of finalists dwindled down from the thousands of participants in the world’s biggest student cyber security hack fest.

First, second and third place prizes were announced in each of the categories in “the largest and most comprehensive collection of computer security education challenges on the planet.” Students—high school-ers to PhDs—from around the world competed in the Capture the Flag, High School Forensics, Embedded Security, and Best Applied Research Competitions, in addition to the newly-instated Policy Competition.

Throughout the event, which took place from November 12-15th, when the finalists weren’t strategizing and competing with their respective teams, there was plenty to take part in. This year’s THREADS Conference focused on the automation of security. The CSAW Workshop Series featured the world’s leading security experts imparting knowledge and insight in 30-minute slivers. The CSAW Career Fair allowed students to interact with 30 top employers attending in hopes of securing future intern and employment recruits.

Alex Stamos, Yahoo’s Chief Information Security officer, brought all the CSAW participants together for the formal kickoff of the week’s events in a key note address. It was a talk that, for Anirudh Iyengar--a Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida--was inspiring.

“There’s one quote he said that is resonating in me,” said Iyengar, a member of Team LOGICS which placed third in the Embedded Security Competition. “‘Be the designer, not the plumber.’ So you should be in the design phase of the team and not just someone they call to fix things," he said. "If you are on that team you are valuable, if you’re on a team that just comes to fix stuff, you are replaceable.”

Iyengar went on to sum up his take-home lesson from CSAW, “Knowledge is power in the end. If you know something that other people don’t know or are still trying to figure out you’re already ahead of the game…That’s something that was restated in almost every competition.”

A memorable moment for Hyo Won Kim, a member of Team xD from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, came in the form of an almost crucial mistake.

“We found a critical piece of evidence with an hour left and we had a mild panic attack trying to get everything together,” she said of her team. “But we had a lot of fun.”

Team xD placed 2nd in the High School Forensics Competition which, as a new twist this year, gave the hacking newbies hard evidence (in the form of a cell phone) in addition to the usual electronic clues to solve a fictitious crime. Prizes included scholarships funds for the 1st place team members, runners up, as well as awards for their school’s science programs.

Ryan Goulden, a member of PPP from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa, participated in the largest Capture the Flag Competition in CSAW history. The Capture the Flag Competition is a 36-hour non-stop application of security skills. 18,000 students were whittled into 16 teams which used their offensive and defensive hacking skills to earn “flags” as they completed each mission.

Relative to Hyo Won Kim and Team xD’s experience, he can appreciate the exposure coming back year after year. “The challenges aren’t obviously something you’d see in real life, Goulden said. “But they are designed to exercise real world experiences.”

Alastair McMillian, a Carnegie Mellon University junior computer science major, also on PPP, highlighted a key point in his participation.

“Practicing these problems you get the basics, said McMillian. In the competition you can’t just give up. You have to take it all the way to the end…Getting something totally completed.”

The CSAW challenges are only the beginning when it comes to how CSAW prepares the participants for the real world, said Alex DeTrano, who served as a team lead for Team LOGICS (Embedded Security).

“The benefit would mostly be the exposure. We had judges from all different backgrounds," DeTrano said. “You get to interact with a lot of different people from different areas," he said. "Also, you get good feedback…so people are using this [competition] as a stepping stone.”