Young geeks rise to defend SA from ID fraud

By Sibahle Malinga and Christopher Tredger

Johannesburg, 08 Jun 2022
The overall winning team, “Hacker Agents”, with Ivan Regasek, CEO of ITWeb.
The overall winning team, “Hacker Agents”, with Ivan Regasek, CEO of ITWeb.

The ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon 2022 (#SS22Hack) saw young hackers dedicate over 30 hours of their time to developing solutions to protect South African citizens from identity theft.

Themed “Rise of the Hackathons”, the hackathon is hosted annually by ITWeb, in collaboration with youth ICT organisation Geekulcha and sponsored by tech firms Snode Technologies and Telspace Africa, and the Northern Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism, 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 dire shortage of security skills across the world.

Held this year on 31 May and 1 June, the event saw 60 hackers − made up of tertiary students, cyber security enthusiasts and young professionals − compete to identify vulnerabilities and create applications and solutions to protect digital citizens and firms from cyber threats.

Three teams scooped R35 000 worth of cash prizes and internship opportunities at the event, which took place at the ITWeb Security Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.

A wide range of solutions were created, including an online platform for the Department of Home Affairs, focused on multi-factor authentication for citizen data; biometric tech applied to password-generating applications; and ID verification tools. Another solution provides an SMS-based notification system to protect user IDs from cyber threats.

Participants were mentored and guided by cyber security industry experts and professionals.

MyCybercare research found that identity theft is a fast-growing crime in SA, having increased by 200% over the past six years. Globally, more than 7.1 billion identities have been exposed in data breaches since 2010, notes the cyber insurance company.

A report by global analytics software firm FICO suggests South Africans are concerned about fraudsters using their information to hijack their financial personas.

“We are happy we resumed ITWeb's Security Summit Hackathon following a pandemic, and it was wonderful to have academia, industry mentors, enthusiasts, and students and professors from different universities and provinces all brought together by their passion for learning and pursuit of skill,” says Ivan Regasek, ITWeb CEO.

“We want this culture of being a geek to grow across the country and continent, and we are very happy to see it improving year-on-year since we started this hackathon in 2017; we are heading in the right direction.”

Regasek urges more involvement in the event from industry, government, academia and the youth, as the job is far from done to take the event to greater heights.

“Hacker Agents”, a group of students from Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, scooped the R20 000 cash prize, for being crowned overall winner of the #SS22Hack.

The winning team focused on creating digital signatures to protect sensitive data in the SMSes sent by the Department of Health to vaccinated citizens. It also won internship opportunities with Snode Technologies.

The second place winning team – SecureIT.

The second place winning team – SecureIT.
The second place winning team – SecureIT.

The second-place winner was team “SecureIT” – two students from the University of Johannesburg – who scooped a R10 000 cash prize. They developed a web application which uses artificial intelligence to generate passwords for users' accounts across different online platforms. The duo was also named Best Female Hackers, attaining an internship opportunity with Snode Technologies.

In third place was the “Cyber Smart Team”, hailing from Mpumalanga. The team, which developed an identity verification system for organisations and large institutions, walked away with a R5 000 cash prize.

The hackathon also featured a “Capture The Flag” challenge, where participants were required to compete against each other to find exploitation gaps or defence vulnerabilities. The winner of this challenge was Jabu Mahlangu from Mpumalanga. He was awarded an internship opportunity at Telspace Systems.

Tiyani Nghonyama, chairperson of the hackathon and Geekulcha COO, congratulated the winners: “This year’s edition of the ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon dominated in spirit, commitment and perseverance – the vital qualities that made this hackathon a good platform for development.

“We saw participants from Kimberley arriving at the hackathon at 1am, and they still managed to win. We also watched university lecturers mentoring and guiding their students at around 3am. This shows the importance of collaborative efforts in skills development.”

Team Cyber Smart, third place winners, joined by Steve Jump, founder and director of Custodiet Advisory Services.
Team Cyber Smart, third place winners, joined by Steve Jump, founder and director of Custodiet Advisory Services.