Making Sense of Security

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Making Sense of Security

NSA Georgia Research Raises the Stakes at HackGT

For the first time, NSA presented challenges and awarded prizes at HackGT, an annual 36 hour hackathon with more than 1,000 students from more than 80 universities in October 2019, located at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.

The NSA Georgia Research team led the Agency’s participation in HackGT, an annual hackathon organized by Georgia Tech students, which is of strategic interest given the school’s rankings in Major League Hacking and in computer science and engineering; their designation as a Center of Academic Excellence; and existing partnership with NSA through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

HackGT provided NSA the opportunity to interact directly with exceptional technical talent and aid recruitment efforts. By sponsoring relevant challenges, NSA also underscored its commitment to fostering cybersecurity best practices which strengthens NSA’s leadership role in this area. The event was effective in part due to the close collaboration between NSA Georgia Research and cross-directorate leadership and technical mentor support.

Hackathons are “innovation marathons,” where students with an interest in technology can attend to learn, build, and share their project over the course of a weekend. From more than 4,500 applicants from universities across the nation, the event hosted more than 1,000 students with diverse representation of women and minorities. Teams of up to four students submitted 218 unique projects for demonstration and judging.

Dr. Robert Runser, NSA Research Technical Director, provided an “overview of NSA and Research” to raise awareness of NSA’s research interests and promote recruitment at the event. A cadre of NSA staff served as technical mentors, presented workshop talks, and provided guidance on the two Agency-sponsored challenges – best project using Secure Software Coding Best Practices and best project using Open Source NSA technologies.

The technical mentors presented five workshop talks covering NSA tools and techniques that participants could use in their projects:

  1. Introduction to Software Reverse Engineering using Ghidra
  2. Security and Tools Overview Highlighting Secure Programming Best Practices
  3. Simon and Speck Lightweight Block Cipher Algorithm
  4. Beergarden Open Source Framework to Convert Functions into Services using Python.
  5. SIMP (an NSA-developed tool that performs system management and automated compliance functions leveraging SELinux)

Additionally, the team shared information on opportunities and student programs during the sponsor expo and provided technical project mentorship. NSA was one of the sponsors that provided technical mentors for the duration of the 36-hour event, which received praise from students and event organizers.

For the Secure Software Coding Challenge, NSA awarded first place to “Shop Around,” which reinvents users shopping experience to recommend where to shop to get the best prices for all their goods. Honorable mention went to “Zap Pay,” which allows users to securely share money and divide peer-to-peer payments with their native smart phone messaging app.

For the Open Source NSA Technology Challenge, the first-place winner was “Melody Password,” which generated, retrieved, and managed passwords by combining a given service and chosen song. Honorable mention went to “Canvas Assistant,” which integrated course management software to provide students with up-to-date information about their courses. Both winners applied the open source Beergarden tool for their implementations. All project submissions can be found here.

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