Young hackers tackle COVID-19 security solutions

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This year’s four-day virtual hackathon, held in conjunction with ITWeb Security Summit 2020, was won by a team called Scam Inc, for their solution which informs citizens if their online identity has been compromised. The team won R10 000.

Team MTI was placed second, with a platform to protect digital identity through cyber education, followed by Team Bantu, which designed a Web application that analyses code to detect vulnerabilities.

The hackathon was hosted with ICT youth forum Geekulcha. Geekulcha founder and CEO Mixo Ngoveni says the event shows the youth’s appetite to learn and apply new skills.

“They’re not solving problems in isolation; they’re considering real-world situations. It’s been great seeing everyone learn about cyber security, playing around with different tech and also exploring solutions that won’t just better their own lives, but those of all citizens.”

The hackathon saw 170 coders from across the country take part.

Geekulcha COO Tiyani Nghonyama says the hackathon presented an opportunity to nurture local cyber security capacity. “We themed this hackathon around challenging young minds to build a better country post-COVID-19. What kind of solutions are needed to ensure that our work and social lives are made easier after this? And who better to build the future than the future itself.

“This was the first hackathon for some, and it’s quite challenging when your first one is a virtual hack. But it's been a learning process for everyone and it’s also been an opportunity to bring in young minds, aspiring devs and aspiring InfoSec professionals.

“As traditional hack-goers, we all missed the atmosphere; the coffee, energy drinks and even the music requests. We’ve adapted to using voice and video calls for sessions but what we’ve seen is that this also prepares participants for remote work − the new normal.”

He says the SSHack also provided participants a headstart in the security industry.

‘Our next collaborator – your next employee – was part of the hackathon. As they’re building their applications, they’re being encouraged to consider security from the very beginning, understanding the threat landscape and following industry best practice.”

The hackathon also included a ‘capture the flag’ security challenge, in which teams hunted for a piece of text hidden on a Web page, or by hacking into a server.

“It was exciting to see someone send a message saying ‘I’ve captured the flag’ around 2am,” says Nghonyama.

He adds it has been encouraging to receive feedback from a lecturer at Sol Plaatje University – one of the hackathon partners – who said the event showed how students are coping with online learning.

“This time, with COVID-19 challenges, is the time to build solutions for a new world. We’ve exposed the techies to common attacks, asking for their solutions because we want to get to a point where we’re capable of building a national digital defence force. Those young minds are part of this hackathon.”

Other prize winners at the hackathon include Tshireletso Kgabi for ‘Best Female Star’ and the ‘Ultimate GeekStar’ Tshepiso Dibakwane who received a course voucher worth R12 500 from management consultancy, WWise.

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