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Hacking skills shine in global cybersecurity competition

SAIT students grab third and fifth place in virtual capture the flag event.
SAIT students grab third and fifth place in virtual capture the flag event

Two teams of students from SAIT’s School for Advanced Digital Technology (SADT) took third and fifth place in a unique virtual study abroad opportunity — a global game of cybersecurity capture the flag (CTF).

If you never played CTF outside as a kid, the basic idea is really in the name — teams compete to grab a hidden or hard-to-reach flag from their opposition and bring it safely back to home base.

In the world of cybersecurity, CTF works on the same principle — only teams use information security tools and techniques to perform digital “break-ins” and uncover hidden secrets in vulnerable programs or websites for points.

The international competition, timed with Cybersecurity Awareness Month, was hosted by one of SAIT’s Global Education Network (GEN) partners, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Singapore. The two teams of three students from SAIT represented Canada in a field of nine international teams from ITE and another GEN partner, Box Hill Institute in Australia.

“Students had to strategize, problem-solve and collaborate to meet a joint outcome,” says Raynie Wood, Dean, SADT. “They had to come together online to use their skills to challenge themselves — no different than an average day in the field of information security.”

“The coolest part was watching this group of learners come together online — SAIT and colleagues from the other side of the world,” she says. “We will continue to challenge our assumptions around how to partner globally for the benefit of learners, pathways and partnerships.”

Hacking and sneaking

“I love the idea of breaking into things — hacking your way into stuff,” says Tait Hoyem, a member of SAIT’s third-place team. “I’m not much of a structured learning kind of guy. I want to know how to do stuff, and the idea of trying to figure out a way around things really appeals to me.”

The team spent almost five hours working through a series of challenges – and it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“We had nothing for two hours. We got stuck for nearly half the event. Then, we hacked directly into a machine,” says the second-year Information Technology Software Development student. “It was a hallelujah moment — there may have been some yelling. It was only worth 25 points, but they were the most exciting points we got all night.”

Cyber skills on display

Nick Hamnett is an SADT instructor at SAIT and helped coach Hoyem’s team to a third-place finish.

“In this event, students had to exploit security vulnerabilities to gain points. In the real world, those points equate to dollars,” he says.  

In partnership with the National Cybersecurity R&D Lab (NCL), ITE has organised similar competitions for their students before. This year, they invited GEN institutions, including SAIT, to participate. The competitions are a great way for students to demonstrate their skills in cybersecurity.

“The information technology industry is constantly evolving and as it does, companies are having to re-evaluate how to minimize risks in cybersecurity. Every job in IT involves cybersecurity in some way and that isn’t going to slow down anytime soon,” says Hamnett.

Competing students earned prizes, credit towards their Co-Curricular Record and a Certificate of Recognition from GEN.

Through GEN partnerships, SAIT’s Study Abroad office has provided international learning experiences to hundreds of students since 2001.

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