John MacRitchie speaks about how CanHacks 2018 was made possible. Photo: Sera Wong

Ryerson launches two-week cybersecurity competition

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By Sera Wong

The Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson has partnered with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to host CanHack 2018, a two-week competition featuring challenges where participants must decrypt, hack, or reverse engineer puzzles surrounding cybersecurity.

The competition begins Sept. 28 at noon and will end Oct. 12 at noon. The competition is free and open to anyone, however only students in high school will be eligible to receive the prizes. Ryerson held a launch event to celebrate the competition’s kickoff, with panelists coming in to speak about the importance of cybersecurity in a modern era.

This will be the first time the competition is held in Canada. CanHack is the Canadian category of picoCTF, a competition run by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), which is known for its emphasis in computer science and engineering programs. The university ranks amongst schools such as MIT and Stanford University for having the best computer science program.

“It could also be a great opportunity for women to get into the cybersecurity field, whereas currently, it’s a male-dominated field”

The challenges will focus on five main areas: Web exploitation and web security, binary exploitation, reverse engineering, forensics and cryptography. Students will be judged on how far through the challenges they get.

John MacRitchie, senior director in business development and strategic planning at Ryerson, says that this is an excellent learning opportunity for students, and that they expect hundreds to participate.

“There’s huge opportunity and demand for people with these skills,” he said. “Decisions somebody is making in high school around what courses they want to study and what areas they’re studying makes an impact of what they might choose to study when they’re in university.”

He said he hopes to attract the interest of students so that they might learn the skills they need for working in a cyber security role. About 85 high schools have signed up to participate in CanHack 2018.

Natasha Campagna, manager of the Sandbox at the DMZ, says that it’s important to allow students access to education outside of the classroom.

“I think a lot of people are scared of the word cybersecurity,” she said. “It’s something that’s up and coming and maybe high school students don’t really understand what it is. I think pushing students… and getting them to be pushed into fields where there are going to be a lot of jobs opening up would be a great opportunity for them.”

She mentions that it could also be a great opportunity for women to get into the cybersecurity field, whereas currently, it’s a male-dominated field.

The importance of cybersecurity

Cyber crime is on the rise, according to Chris Sloan, detective in the Toronto Police Technical Crime Unit.

He said the best protection against cyber attacks is education, and that CanHack will help develop the skills needed for new ideas and strategies in the cybersecurity industry—an industry that will be much needed in the future.

“I think it needs to happen,” he said. “Myself, I didn’t grow up online… but obviously it is a big part of my life and with young people now, they are growing up with it. It’s embedded in what they do.”

Sloan mentions that cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated, and that though people know what cybersecurity is, they don’t quite know how to use it properly.

“And it’s unfortunate because they bad guys do know how to use it, and as a citizen you really need to read up on it,” he said.

As for himself, Sloan said he gets “bumped” all the time.

“I call it bumping,” he said. “Pickpockets do it all the time. They bump into you, they take your wallet.

“Online, they bump into you, what are you going to do now? Are you going to respond or are you going to be the victim? Let’s face it, the weakest link in cybersecurity is the person. It’s not the system.”

Those who want to enter the competition can do so here.

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