NCape developers shine at Security Summit 2024 Hackathon

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga
Johannesburg, 07 Jun 2024
Over 500 participants from all parts of SA registered to participate in the #SS2024Hack. #SecuritySummit2024 #hackathon
Over 500 participants from all parts of SA registered to participate in the #SS2024Hack. #SecuritySummit2024 #hackathon

For a second consecutive year, participants from the Northern Cape triumphed at the ITWeb Security Summit 2024 Hackathon, scooping the top prize for their disruptive artificial intelligence (AI)-based cyber security solutions.

The hackathon started off with a gathering of industry minds earlier this year, to help curate the vision for the 2024 theme: “Generation Hacker: GenZ vs GenAI”.

According to Tiyani Nghonyama, chairperson of the hackathon and Geekulcha COO, the theme focused on the need to create a highly-secure environment to provide protection against the new kind of advanced hacker and today’s emerging, sophisticated threats.

The hackathon is hosted annually by ITWeb, in collaboration with youth ICT organisation Geekulcha, and is sponsored by tech firms Snode Technologies  Telspace Africa, CompTIA and the Northern Cape provincial government, among others.

The event aims to help young South Africans hone their cyber security skills and provide participants with opportunities to enter the field, amid the shortage of security skills across the world.

This year, the hackathon was structured in three streams: Secure Innovation, CTF Red Teaming and CTF Blue Teaming, targeting the Crush FTP CVE-2024-4040 vulnerability (unauthenticated remote attacks).

Working in teams, participants were requested to build security capabilities and/or defend a business, while highlighting risk mitigation against cost, reputation and overall survival of a business that would be impacted by such risks.

The winning team, named Art-VeriAI, consisted of four data science students at Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape, who tackled the Secure Innovation stream.

They received a R20 000 cash prize, sponsored by Snode Technologies, for their API-as-a-service solution targeted at platform providers. The solution is aimed at combatting the bypassing of facial authentication systems by using deep learning neural networks to identify AI-powered spoofing deep-fakes.

The team consisted of Rejoice Chitenga, Tinago Ngonidzashe, Luthando Mletshe and Katleho Matladi.

“Congratulations to the three winning teams for developing creative innovations and well done to all participants,” said Nghonyama.

“This year's hackathon has superseded the previous year’s hackathons by a measure of improved quality, participation numbers and highly-active female participation, and more mentors participated to provide guidance, among other aspects. Participants travelled as far as from KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape, and spent countless hours on the road to reach the hackathon.”

James Stanger, chief technology evangelist at CompTIA and hackathon mentor, commented: “The hackathon was fantastic because we got to witness the professionalisation of the future workforce.

“These students did more than pretend they were doing cyber security. They were creating code, writing business proposals and flexing their cyber muscles. I've rarely been in such an exciting environment, and I've been to a lot of these types of events."

First place winners: Team Art-VeriAI, from Sol Plaatje University.
First place winners: Team Art-VeriAI, from Sol Plaatje University.

Over 500 participants from all parts of the country registered and went through development sessions, learning security concepts and innovative ideas to work on, and then submitting proposals. A total of 57 participants (14 teams) were selected to take part in this year's hackathon.

“Sudo SPU” − another team of students from Sol Plaatje University − took home the second prize of R10 000. Their solution focused on detecting vulnerabilities and mitigating threats to protect businesses from the loss of sensitive client data, with a particular emphasis on CVE-2024-4040.

“Our objective is to implement effective measures to identify and address such vulnerabilities, thereby ensuring the security and integrity of business systems and the confidentiality of client information,” the team of five told ITWeb.

Team Sudo SPU also won the Capture the Flag (CTF) challenge, earning a $250 (R4 721) cash prize and internship opportunities at Snode Technologies.

Second place winners: Team Sudo SPU, from Sol Plaatje University.
Second place winners: Team Sudo SPU, from Sol Plaatje University.

Tech Titans took third place, earning a R5 000 cash prize. “This team consisted of a combination of self-taught developers and students from the University of Johannesburg. They worked on building security capability for a healthcare assistant app, named Dr Meds, that helps people keep track of their medicine regiments, order their medication online and have it delivered to them,” explained Nghonyama.

The youngest participants were high school learners Alex Dodd and Jivesh Ramnath, from KwaZulu-Natal, who are part of the AlgoAtWork Academy for junior coders. These youngsters won the Future Hackers Award, for their work in building a secure agricultural platform for farmers, and received a $250 (R4 721) prize.

The Ethical Exploiters team won first place in the CTF challenge, with internship opportunities at Telspace Africa and a R40 000 gaming laptop for the team .

Future Hackers Award winners and youngest participants, Alex Dodd and Jivesh Ramnath.
Future Hackers Award winners and youngest participants, Alex Dodd and Jivesh Ramnath.