Buena Vista University Holds Second Annual Hacking Challenge

Buena Vista University Holds Second Annual Hacking Challenge

Buena Vista University Holds Second Annual Hacking Challenge
The winning BVU team in action, receiving input from Dr. Nathan Backman. From left to right: Alex Meier, Gerald Heylmun, Jonathan Kenkel, Dr. Nathan Backman and Arik Ostler.

Twenty students from the Buena Vista University computer science department faced off against each other and students from Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., during BVU's second annual "Capture the Flag" computer hacking challenge that took place on both BVU's and Whitworth's campuses simultaneously on April 4-5.

During the challenge, which was spread over 24 hours, five teams from each university had the opportunity to test their hacking skills in a real-time setting and were also assigned servers to protect. Teams accumulated points by capturing data or "flags" from the servers of their competitors and by ensuring their servers were secure and that the services they provided were not interrupted. Web cameras and projectors created a virtual window between contestants at the two universities for the duration of the contest.

"The hacking contest is a teaching tool more than anything else," said Dr. Nathan Backman, assistant professor of computer science at BVU. "The exercise focuses on programming and security, but covers all aspects of our computer science curriculum."

To obtain external server space to handle the challenge, Backman received a grant from Amazon.com to host the competition within the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.

In a change from last year's event which only involved students from BVU, Backman decided to invite another university to compete to increase the challenge and to offer this opportunity to other students.

"'Capture the Flag' wouldn't have been possible without the efforts of Dr. Backman," said Dr. Kent Jones, professor of mathematics and computer science at Whitworth University. "Events like these get students excited about computer science and network security, and it gives them the chance to explore and learn things they might not in class."

A team from BVU took first place in the challenge, with teams from Whitworth taking second and third place honors. Members of BVU's winning team were Jonathan Kenkel, a senior computer science and management information systems major from Irwin; Arik Ostler, a junior computer science major from Red Oak; Gerald Heylmun, a sophomore computer science - math major from Plattsmouth, Neb.; and Alex Meier, a sophomore computer science - information technology major from Irwin.

Backman believes these hands-on events are important opportunities for students, and he is already preparing for next year's challenge.

"Events like our 'Capture the Flag' contest are not only fun, but they also teach students about the responsibility behind writing good, secure code," said Backman. "The code that they will write someday will be used by banks, retailers and even airlines, and exercises like this really demonstrate the importance of code security."