Top Young Hackers Converge in Brooklyn

Students Solve Cyber Crimes, Snag Hot Security Jobs

Hackers from across the country converged in Downtown Brooklyn last week for the Eighth Annual Cyber Security Awareness Week. The finals were held Thursday and Friday on the campus of Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Shown left to right: Nicolas Biono, Luis Valdez and Swaad Golam, juniors at Brooklyn Latin High School, at the semifinal round of the cyber security quiz tournament. Eagle photo by Lisa Frost .

By Mary Frost

DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — Detectives on their first day on the job with the NYU-Poly Cyber Crime Division were confronted with a gruesome celebrity murder. The star of the hit reality show “ISIS Shore” — named Snooki, coincidentally — was found dead in the auditorium, and her lover Dan Guido was seen speeding away down Bridge Street towards the “ISIS Shore” house.

Just as investigators arrived at the house, it exploded in a ball of fire. When the debris settled the only clues left were an Android smart phone, a desktop computer, a hard drive, a USB drive, a server and a broken biometric door lock.

This fictional scenario — designed for high school-level investigators — was just one of the computer crime challenges students attempted to solve as they competed in the Eighth Annual Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW). The finals were held Thursday and Friday on the campus of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) in Downtown Brooklyn.

Hundreds of the country’s best student hackers — from high school to doctoral level — competed at the finals. In one event, college students spent 24 sleepless hours in the gym writing software attacks and repelling other attacks devised by cyber security experts.

In the “Embedded Systems Challenge,” finalists tried to secretly embed malicious hacks into computer hardware. These hacks (called Trojans, after the Trojan Horse) might be programmed to steal your password or make a plane crash by turning off the engine.

‘Hide Messages Right Under Your Nose’

Swaad Golam, Luis Valdez and Nicolas Biono, juniors at Brooklyn Latin High School, made it to the semifinal round of the cyber security quiz tournament. Moderator William Hugh Murray, expert in Information Assurance, asked the students questions like, “What kind of cipher is RSA?”

“We also did the digital forensics project — we found hidden files and cracked passwords,” Golam told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Snooki was murdered and we narrowed it down to two suspects — The Situation or Dan Guido.” Golam said he wanted to go into information systems, possibly into cyber defense.

Valdez, new to cyber security, said, “It’s cool. They hide messages right under your nose.” He said he was excited because “there are so many different job openings. This is a better way to spend my time — stay home, break down the computer. It’s not that hard to understand.”

Biondo said he was interested in mechanical engineering, with computer science on the side. “This is an educational day. You learn a lot about computers through the process. It makes me want to go deeper in depth with this. Everyone sees you as a wizard — but it’s really easy.”

Alex Jones, a master’s-level student in cyber security at NYU-Poly, was assisting at CSAW. “I can’t tell you who killed Snooki,” he said. “They’ll reveal it at the awards ceremony.” Jones said he already had a job with the Department of Defense lined up.

“Information assurance and cyber security have good job outlooks.”

Many Job Openings for Cyber Security Professionals

CSAW was joined this year by the Kaspersky’s American Cup, an international cyber security research conference that brings together students, experts and researchers to present and discuss issues relating to cyber crime.

“We bring together the top talent in cyber security across the country,” said Nasir Memon, director of NYU-Poly’s cyber security program. “Students learn the latest and greatest advances, meet each other and learn from each other. This will serve them well as they move forward.”

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the growing number of attacks on our cyber networks has become, in President Obama’s words, “one of the most serious economic and national security threats our nation faces.”

“Nationally, there’s a severe shortage of qualified professionals in cyber security,” Memon said. “We hope to attract more students to this important discipline. The field has so many job openings — I regularly get inquiries. There are big shortages, especially of U.S. citizens.”

Students interested in the field “have to have the right math and science skills, and more importantly an analytical mind and curiosity,” he said.

The event included a job fair, with organizations like Kaspersky, AT&T, Lockheed Martin, RIM, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Army and Matasano Security on hand to discuss the future with top talent.

NYU-Poly is a designated Center of Excellence in Information Assurance research. Their nationally noted computer science and engineering programs include a master’s in cyber security and the National Science-Foundation-funded ISIS (Information Systems and Security) Lab.

Memon said that NYU-Poly received a National Science Foundation grant in September, which will be used in part to attract more young women to high-tech fields.

As to who killed Snooki?

It was The Situation, of course.

To see the list of event winners, visit www.poly.edu/csaw2011/winners.

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