For the ninth straight year, high school students from around the United States and Canada have spent the last four months preparing for the year’s premier cyber security event – the Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) Competition held at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly). The competition was led by Nasir Memon, professor of computer science and the director of NYU-Poly’s internationally recognized Information Systems and Internet Security Lab. “The mission of CSAW is to build the skills of future cyber security leaders,” he explained. The United States is facing a critical shortage of cyber security professionals, a situation that President Obama has deemed a national security crisis. The competition was sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security and the NSF, along with numerous companies including Adobe, AT&T, the Kaspersky Lab, L3, BlackRock, and Qualcomm just to name a few.
Using digital forensic techniques such as log and file analysis, rootkit detection and analysis, botnet detection and analysis, live system forensics, steganography, file carving and more, students learned how to evaluate the vulnerability of systems and penetrate their firewalls. They did this while trying to solve a fictitious murder mystery puzzle. Hidden Valley High School fielded a team named the “Hash Slinging Hackers”, led by senior Sachith Gullapalli with fellow seniors Kevin Silberblatt and Baxter Wingfield – all members of Hidden Valley’s Cross Country team. This team battled against other elite teams – and the clock – as they gathered clues to solve a fast-paced mystery.
Over 1,300 students from almost 500 teams competed in the on line portion of the competition for two to three months. NYU Poly analyzed the on-line results and chose the top ten teams. The final ten teams were brought to New York City to compete in from November 15th – 17th. The Hash Slinging Hackers were flown to New York on Thursday. Other teams were flown in from as far away as Illinois and California.
The actual competition was 7 hours of non-stop sleuthing, plowing through reams of data, fragments of pictures and audio files, websites, and even virtual machines, searching for clues that would lead them to who might have brought Stratoz Gavas to an untimely end. All the teams were excited to get started. Everyone started searching for more clues, each team uncovering different pieces of the massive puzzle and searching for the elusive answer.
The Hidden Valley Hash Slinging Hackers flew out of the gate finding major clues, and in the first 3 hours had made a huge breakthrough. They found an obstacle that needed to be opened. They knew it was important, but did not realize that this was the major portal to the rest of the information they needed to solve the murder. Over the next four hours they found many other clues; however they were unable to unlock the portal.
As time got short, they put together what information they had in a report and submitted it, knowing that they had failed to solve the murder. The student’s hopes for a win were dashed; however, they were still hopeful that they might have squeaked out a third place ranking, but it was only a slim hope.
That night the judges evaluated all the reports that were turned in, and the following afternoon they convened all the teams to disclose their findings.
As the third place team was announced, Hidden Valley lost their hope. Third place belonged to a team from New Jersey. When second place went to another team from New Jersey (this was the first place team last year), the Hash Slinging Hackers knew that it was over. But then, wonder of all wonders, it was announced that the Hash Slinging Hackers who had bested the best teams in the country and walked away with the first place trophy. It was also announced that they were the only team who had discovered the last major obstacle to finding the final clues to solve the mystery!
So congratulations go out to the three young men from Hidden Valley. Each student won a $14,000 per year ($56,000 over four years) scholarship to NYU Poly should they decide to go to college there. They also won $2,500 for the Hidden Valley High School Computer Science program. The trophy, which was so large that they could not bring it home on the airplane, will be shipped to the school in a couple of weeks.
Submitted by Chuck Lionberger, APR, Community Relations Specialist