Students Hack Their Way to Victory in Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn last week transformed into ground zero for the world’s largest student hacking contest and other cyber security games, all part of the ninth annual Polytechnic Institute of the New York University (NYU-Poly) Cyber Security Week (CSAW).
The hundreds of finalists who converged on the NYU-Poly campus had bested 10,000 competitors in preliminary rounds of seven different challenges designed to encourage a new generation of cyber security experts capable of answering what President Barack Obama has called a national security crisis.
“By attracting a record number of students to the CSAW games this year, we were pleased to open opportunities for more students than ever to increase their cyber security knowledge and build the strong networks of the peers and professionals that they will need in this fast-changing field,” said Nasir Memon, NYU-Poly professor of computer science and engineering and CSAW’s founder. “It also gives me great pride to witness the leadership that NYU-Poly’s cyber security students and alumni exhibit as they developed and organized the CSAW challenges into world-recognized events.”
Hundreds of faculty and professionals act as mentors, help fashion the challenges and judge the CSAW challenges. For the first time, a mobile security conference, THREADS, exposed students and professionals to the latest threats found in the wild.
Government agencies, top security firms and blue chip companies recruited the college finalists as part of the NYU-Poly CSAW career fair. The University of South Florida students who won the difficult hardware hacking competition — the Embedded Systems Challenge—reported receiving three employment offers during CSAW. Cyber security is one of the few professions expected to grow significantly in the near future, with the workforce projected to grow at least 22 percent by 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The centerpiece CSAW games is the software hacking competition for undergraduates, the Capture the Flag (CTF) Applications Security Challenge. The preliminary round this year grew to the largest CTF in the world, attracting 9,000 registrations from across the world. Carnegie Mellon University team PPP1 took first place in the finals with fellow Carnegie Mellon team PPP2 and Boston University team BUILDS taking second and third places, respectively. This was the fourth consecutive win for Carnegie Mellon.
The 10 finalist teams in the High School Cyber Forensics Challenge bested a record 500 other teams to solve a murder mystery using digital tools. The fierce competition this year – last year just over 150 teams competed – was fueled in part by NYU-Poly’s Summer Cyber Security Bootcamp for Teachers, funded by the National Science Foundation to engage students in engineering, science and math.
Despite Hurricane Sandy devastation in Red Bank, N.J., Red Bank High School’s two finalist teams, along with its all-girl observer team, participated in the CSAW finals, and the school’s “Significant Bits” team scored the second-place win. The “Hash-Slinging Hackers” from Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, Va., took the top high school spot, and team SyntaxError from another tri-state area school, High Technology High School of Lincroft, N.J., placed third.
NYU-Poly welcomed Kaspersky Lab to CSAW for the second year, as the world-renowned security firm held the North American Round of its Cybersecurity for the Next Generation International Student Conference. Student competitors submitted original research on security topics, and the finalists presented at CSAW. New York City universities proved formidable, with NYU-Poly students taking two awards: Raymond Mui won the “Innovation and Originality” category and Arun Karthik Kanuparthi won “Practical Application.” The “Best Paper” went to Vasileios Pappas of Columbia University, and from University of California, Veronica Swanson won “Best Presentation.”
The AT&T Best Applied Security Paper Challenge recognized the top published student research in the field. Authors of the 10 leading papers joined the CSAW games for the opportunity to present their research to an elite group of judges from government, academia and industry. Texas schools had a strong showing, with University of Texas at Austin student Martin Georgiev placing first and Richard Wartell from The University of Texas at Dallas nabbing second place. University of California at Berkeley student Emil Stefanov finished third.
Students from around the country flexed their filmmaking muscles to compete in the Adobe Security Awareness Video, a contest to select the best 30-second promotion of cyber security savvy. This year’s theme, “Securing Every Device, Everywhere” focused on one of the hottest subjects in the field, mobile device security. First place went to Ethan Bian of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy; second to Michael Reininger, Sri Velagapudi and Casey Chow of team Monty Defenders of Montgomery High School in Skillman, N.J.; and third to Congyue Zhang of NYU-Poly.
Embedded Systems Challenge finalists competed to detect malicious hardware trojans in a chip design. Four international teams reached the finals, and two took the podium. First prize was awarded to the University of South Florida team NarMOS, followed by Grenoble (France) INP, ESISAR team ESISAR Hardware Trojans Finder, and in third place ESISAR team Esis’hack.
In the final challenge of the day, six teams of students — some of them exhausted but giddy after participating in the 36-hour Capture the Flag contest — matched wits in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Quiz game. Quick-fire trivia rounds tested students’ knowledge of a broad spectrum of security topics, with the team of Shawn Denbow and Andrew Zonenberg from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute emerging victorious. Second place went to the Rough Epsilon team of Richard Wartell of the University of Texas at Dallas, Luca Invernizzi of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Chaitrali Amrutkar of Georgia Institute of Technology. Third place went to George Hotz and Tyler Nighswander of Carnegie Mellon. The Red Bank, N.J., team Significant Bits won the high school honors.
NYU-Poly was one of the first universities to introduce a cyber security program, and is designated as both a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and a Center of Academic Excellence in Research by the National Security Agency. The Sloan Consortium, an affiliation of educators and institutions dedicated to quality online education, named NYU-Poly’s virtual graduate cyber security program the Outstanding Online Program of 2011. The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy (CRISSP), a cutting-edge research collaboration of NYU-Poly and other NYU schools, re-examines the entire cyber security paradigm to integrate technology with broader issues such as human psychology, business, public policies and law. For more information on CSAW, visit http://engineering.nyu.edu/csaw2012.