Cyber Security Challenge: hack yourself a job in cyber security

07 March 2022

Do you puzzle your way with ease through things like cryptography and reverse engineering? Are you a student? Then the Cyber Security Challenge is the time to put  your technical talent in the spotlight. For the seventh year in a row, cyber security companies Nviso and Toreon are organising a tough competition on cyber security. Participating in the hacking tournament can also lead to a ticket to Las Vegas.

Why the Cyber Security Challenge?

Cyber security is a hot topic that is also alive in Belgium. It is precisely for this reason that Nviso launched the first Cyber Security Challenge in 2015. 'Year after year, the importance of cyber security becomes clearer,' explains Annika ten Velden, project lead of the Cyber Security Challenge. 'That's why we stomped the competition out of the ground, because that's how we create more awareness about the topic. Even students who do not later move on to a job in cyber security take the experience with them as they move on in their career.' The Cyber Security Challenge brings together companies and organisations from the sector. Students who participate are in turn treated to a real-life look behind the scenes.

This year the preliminary rounds be held on 10 and 11 March. Participation is in a team of four students. During the first rounds, teams are invited to solve online challenges. The best scoring teams advance to the final, which will be held on 25 and 26 March. During these two days, the students have to solve puzzles on and offline. Sponsors provide assignments that are closely related to their work, so the students get a taste of what they have to offer.  

'Many students find it difficult to solve our puzzles, although we have actually based them on real cases of how DNS can be misused in security.'

Raising awareness

One of those sponsors is DNS Belgium, which is taking part for the third year in a row. The DNS experts and the security officer have already come up with a number of tough puzzles for the participants in recent years. ‘We do this primarily to raise awareness of DNS and DNS security. We address many target groups. We have something for schoolchildren with the Ava & Trix programme, and we recently had a campaign aimed at older people, but students were somewhat left out,' says Kristof.

We also want to increase our name recognition among that group. Every year, a number of students do their work placement or research for their Master's thesis at DNS Belgium. We want to make students enthusiastic about doing more research with us in this way.

Basic knowledge of DNS technology

Kristof has also noticed through the challenge that students no longer have a basic knowledge of DNS technology and the basic protocols of the Internet. Many students find it difficult to solve our puzzles, although we have actually based them on real cases of how DNS can be misused in security.

It is important basic knowledge nonetheless. Companies can invest a lot of money and manpower to close off their security and buy expensive detection software, firewalls and virus scanners. But if the basics are not right, cybercriminals can potentially bypass all the security levels on top of that, and your data will still be out on the street', says Kristof. ‘Insufficient security and lack of proper monitoring mean that hackers can hijack a domain name and redirect or decrypt traffic to gain access to your data. And unfortunately we see that happen in practice.’

That is why DNS Belgium thinks it is important to take part in this challenge. It is a way of making students aware of the importance of DNS in security and of the fact that they don't have enough knowledge about DNS. Whereas every year I am actually very impressed by the analytical thinking of the participants.

'It often happens that students get an internship or a job this way.'

Who can participate?

‘It is a technical challenge so some know-how is required', says Annika. But there are assignments in different levels of difficulty. It doesn't matter if the participant is enrolled in college or university, or studying IT or psychology. Everyone is welcome.’ It is worth participating, even for those who doubt whether their cyber skills are sufficient. ‘Sponsors and organisations from the sector naturally look at the young talent taking part. It often happens that students get an internship or a job this way. And even if this is not the case, it is an educational experience.’

In addition to  practical experience and an initial contact with the sector, there are also great prizes to be won. The winning team gets to go to Def Con, the world's largest cyber security conference. Other teams may be offered training with a partner. ‘For the past few years, we have been allowed to select the students who will represent our country in the European Cyber Security Challenge. So an ambitious student is not to be outdone.

Last year, the challenge took place on a virtual platform. It remains to be seen whether the teams will compete in person or digitally this year. In any case, it promises to be another fierce battle.

With this article, we support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.