Top infosec students square off in inter-uni hackathon contest

Long-term aim is to bridge infosec skills gap

Update The University of Cambridge is due to host a cybersecurity hacking competition between the top UK universities next Saturday (23 April).

The hackathon (pdf), which is expected to involve students from 10 UK universities, follows a similar exercise between the University of Cambridge and MIT last month.

The latter exercise was promoted by US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Dr Frank Stajano, reader in security and privacy at the University of Cambridge's Computer Laboratory, explained that the long term aim of both exercises is to address the skills gap in cybersecurity.

"There has been a tremendous response from both the institutions and the students, especially when taking into account the very short time scale on which this has been organised (two months)," Stajano explained.

Universities down to attend include Imperial College, Queens University Belfast, Royal Holloway, University of London, University College London and University of Oxford, among others.

The university hackathon sits alongside wider initiatives such as the UK government's Cyber Security Challenge in attempting to bridge skills gap in cybersecurity.

"The difference is in the audience being addressed: the Cyber Security Challenge admits anyone who is not a security professional," Stajano explained. "The Inter-ACE only admits candidates who are currently registered students at an ACE-CSR."

Practical security exercises – such as the upcoming hackathon – need to be balanced alongside more traditional theoretical fayre in university syllabuses, according to Stajano.

"As an educator, I believe the role of a university is to teach timeless principles rather than the trick of the day, so I would not think highly of a hacking-oriented course that taught techniques destined to become obsolete in a couple of years," he said. "On the other hand, a total disconnect between theory and practice is also wrong."

"I’ve always introduced my students to lockpicking at the end of my undergraduate security course, both as a metaphor and to underline that practical aspects are also relevant. It has always been enthusiastically received, and has contributed to make more students interested in security," Stajano concluded. ®


The University of Cambridge won the event. The scores are here.

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