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VIDEO: Young geeks hack their way into internships

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 09 Jun 2023
The two-member Team Skillsverse, winner of the second prize of R10 000, with ITWeb CEO Ivan Regasek (middle). (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
The two-member Team Skillsverse, winner of the second prize of R10 000, with ITWeb CEO Ivan Regasek (middle). (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

This week’s ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon 2023 saw groups of young hackers dedicate over 30 hours of their time to creating secure and scenario-based solutions that provide protection to users against known or emerging cyber security threats.

The hackathon is hosted annually by ITWeb. This year’s theme was “Trust no bot” and the challenge was sponsored by Telspace, Snode, Geekulcha and the Start-up Business Campus.

Cash prizes and internships at some of South Africa’s leading cyber security firms were up for grabs.

The event saw 40 young South Africans − tertiary students, cyber security enthusiasts as young as 12 years old and young professionals − hone their cyber security skills.

Participants were provided with opportunities to enter the field, amid the dire shortage of security skills across the world.

The overall winner was Team Aurum from KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which won the R20 000 cash prize.

Creative problem-solving

Speaking to ITWeb, Team Aurum member Sifundo Ngubane said: “The experience during the hackathon was amazing for me, especially the wealth of knowledge the mentors shared with us.

“When I heard I was the winner, I started crying and shaking. It shows this meant a lot to me. Being crowned a winner of the internship at Telspace means I will get training from industry leaders, so this is a dream come true for me.”

Skillsverse from the Vaal was the second-place winner, receiving a R10 000 cash prize. The team consisted of two members, who were previously accountants but have now chosen to join the tech space.

They created a scenario in which they were given access to the National Prosecuting Authority’s database to find a hidden file with the names of whistle-blowers.

In third place was Hugs for Bugs, winning a R5 000 cash prize. The team developed a system that would allow South Africans to securely vote online during elections.

Manny Corregedor, CEO of Telspace; Tiyani Nghonyama, Geekulcha COO; hackathon winner Sifundo Ngubane; Stephan Krynauw, CTO, Snode; and ITWeb CEO Ivan Regasek. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
Manny Corregedor, CEO of Telspace; Tiyani Nghonyama, Geekulcha COO; hackathon winner Sifundo Ngubane; Stephan Krynauw, CTO, Snode; and ITWeb CEO Ivan Regasek. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

The Summit Choice Award for the best solution went to AlgoAtWork Mafia from KZN, winning a R1 000 cash prize. The team developed a Chrome extension that filters and recognises harmful links shared via WhatsApp.

AlgoAtWork Mafia’s Alex Dodd commented: “Winning the Summit Choice Award is an absolutely incredible feeling. As the lead developer of the AlgoAtWork Mafia, I'm immensely proud of what we've achieved, and I feel honoured to have worked alongside such a dedicated team.

“This award is not just our win; it's a win for every young person out there who dares to dream, innovate and make a difference in their community."

The award for the Most Promising Developers went to team Devgravia, with each team member winning an internship opportunity at Genisus Risk. The team developed a solution to automate anomaly detection, in order to reduce analysis time and allow for easy detection of anomalies.

Onil Chibaya, a member of Team Devgravia, said: “The feeling is great, considering that the opportunity came out of nowhere, and it’s within a field I have interest in. It is also an honour to have been recognised by people in the industry because it keeps us motivated to improve and keep working until we get to where we’re going in our industry.”

A wide range of solutions were created during the hackathon, including an app for people living with blindness, a scraping model for anomaly detection and a peer-to-peer decentralised marketplace to help people sell and buy clothes safely.

The beginning of a career

For the third consecutive year, the ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon featured a Capture the Flag (CTF) challenge in a controlled lab.

The challenge consisted of a set of computer security puzzles or challenges, involving reverse-engineering, memory corruption, cryptography and web technologies.

CTF challenges often simulate real-world scenarios, allowing participants to develop their skills, while having fun in a competitive environment. They also provide participants with an opportunity to sharpen their skills in ethical hacking and secure coding.

The hackers were divided into two teams. The red team consisted of the attackers, tasked to breach a system, while the blue team consisted of the defenders, tasked to defend and ensure the security of the system.

This was done to illustrate it is important to know the vulnerabilities in a system, as well as how to protect it from attacks.

Aurum from the red team and CyberShield from the blue team won the CTF challenge, winning internships from cyber security firms Snode and Telspace.

Tiyani Nghonyama, Geekulcha COO. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
Tiyani Nghonyama, Geekulcha COO. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

Team CyberShield said: “Winning an internship at Snode is an exhilarating achievement for our team. It validates our hard work and commitment to cyber security. The opportunity to intern at Snode offers valuable hands-on experience and exposure to real-world challenges.

“It is a stepping stone towards a successful career, providing growth and development opportunities. We are excited to contribute our skills, creativity and passion to the team, and make a positive impact on cyber security.”

The participants were mentored and guided by cyber security industry experts and professionals over the two-day hackathon.

Jabu Mahlangu, winner of the 2022 CTF challenge, was also present to help mentor this year’s participants.

Hackathons have become a breeding ground for creativity, collaboration and breakthrough solutions. These high-energy events bring together talented individuals, who aim to solve real-world problems through coding, designing and hacking.

“This is what it’s about. It’s about learning and creating, and I think that’s what everyone did during the hackathon. We want this to grow across the country and we are happy to see it get bigger this year,” says ITWeb CEO Ivan Regasek.

Tiyani Nghonyama, chairperson of the hackathon and Geekulcha COO, congratulated the participants. “We hope this can become bigger, and seeing youngsters as young as 12 is good − they are competitive. Hackathons like this set the stage for all the hackathons for the year.”