NSA And Carnegie Mellon Looking For High School Hackers
March 17, 2013

NSA-Sponsored Contest Seeking Student Computer Hackers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

In an attempt to reach the next generation of cybersecurity personnel, officials from Carnegie Mellon University and the US National Security Agency (NSA) are launching a computer-hacking competition for high school students.

The online game, which has been dubbed “Toaster Wars,” features a space robot that crash-lands on Earth, according to the project´s official website. The competition is free, open to any individual or group of American students in the sixth through twelfth grades, and is scheduled to run from April 26 through May 6, the Associated Press (AP) explained.

Carnegie Mellon computer science professor David Brumley told the AP´s Kevin Begos the game was created in order to be enjoyable and challenging, but also created with the goal of enticing students into the field of computer security — something NSA representatives say there is a vast need for.

“America increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep the country safe today — and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility,” Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman with the Maryland-based bureau — which has been tasked with protecting the US from cyberattacks — told Begos via email.

“When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce. We need the best and brightest to help us outthink and defeat our adversaries' new ideas,” she added. “The government has a huge number of concerns," Brumley said. "Computer security isn't growing fast enough to keep up with all the threats. If you call any business, they're going to say we can't hire enough security people.”

The “Toaster Wars” competition was announced by Carnegie Mellon “just days after the Obama administration's national security adviser called for China to take ℠serious steps´ to stop cyber theft and after a top officer at the US Cyber Command warned that the federal government and the private sector need to be more aggressive in building the country's cyber defenses,” Begos said.

While the organizers of the competition note that they are fully aware that much of what hackers learn about the trade doesn´t occur in the classroom, they emphasize that learning things outside of a controlled environment could lead to legal repercussions. The “Toaster Wars” webpage notes computer security is a difficult field to break into, and anyone interested in the career field might have problems trying to hone their skills without breaking the law.

As for the game itself, Brumley compared it to a “capture-the-flag” style video game. There are different bits of encrypted data hidden throughout the game, and players will have to use computer forensics, cryptography, web exploitation, binary exploitation and other methods to find the information needed to achieve victory.

The contest itself was designed to attempt to keep user´s interest and make it more exciting — and Brumley told the AP that the organizers are attempting to secure corporate sponsors in order to offer cash prizes to the winners.