Summing up CSAW ‘19

student holding computer hardware

The 2019 CSAW finals were held November 6–8, and the latest edition of the most comprehensive student-run cybersecurity event on the planet was — yet again — one to remember.

It was global:

Finals were held in Brooklyn (NYU Tandon), India (IIT Kanpur), France (Grenoble-INP Esisar), Israel (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Haifa, with IBM Research-Haifa and the IBM Cyber Security Center of Excellence), the United Arab Emirates (NYU Abu Dhabi), and Mexico (Universidad Iberoamericana).

What was new:

Hack ML, a first-of-its-kind machine learning competition, challenged contestants to fortify notoriously fragile deep learning–based artificial intelligence.

Logic Locking, which called upon competitors to solve the problem of securing chips during the manufacturing process, a fast-moving area of research. 

In a first for CSAW, the event also featured a Pwny Racing live-streamed head-to-head event at, in which teams competed in a heated single-elimination bracket event.

(On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Embedded Security Challenge is the oldest and largest hardware hacking competition in the world.)

2019 CSAW winning teams

View a listing of US-Canada winning teams


Hitting the jackpot!

Sponsor Red Balloon Security filled a real ATM with $2 bills and challenged CSAW participants to hack the machine (without damaging it) to make it dispense nearly $2,000. (Red Balloon uses just such tests to evaluate job applicants).

At the finals for the United States and Canada, students won cash prizes, and NYU Tandon offered more than $1 million in scholarships to high school competitors.

By the numbers:

Brooklyn hosted 66 finalist teams from the United States and Canada in a record nine competitions, while another 114 teams competed at the other academic hubs.

At the Brooklyn hub alone, 34 students from both NYU Tandon’s student-led Offensive Security, Incident Response and Internet Security (OSIRIS) Laboratory, the NYU Center for Cybersecurity, and the NYU College of Arts and Sciences worked as competition leads, devising and honing the international games with the help of 100 professionals. Another 64 students volunteered in Brooklyn to run the annual games, now in their 17th year, and events there were supported by 24 industry and government partners.

To earn spots in the coveted final rounds, this year’s contestants bested 1,225 teams from 90 countries.

Finalists in Capture the Flag, a perennial favorite at CSAW, had bested 559 teams from around the world to land their slots


Let’s hear it for the girls:

Two all-girl high school teams — from Poolesville High School, in Maryland, and Niwot High School, in Colorado — competed in Brooklyn this year, reflecting CSAW’s mission to employ the games as a gateway to a field in which women represent only 24 percent of the global workforce.