A student organization is using an online game to teach students about cybersecurity.
NetSec, a branch of UCLA’s Association of Computer Machinery, along with teams at UC Irvine and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo held the club’s most recent capture the flag event Saturday. Teams of four competed online against one another to solve hacking questions at the event, which is part of ACM’s program to inform more students about cybersecurity.
Tanya Al-Rehani, a third-year computer science student and president of NetSec, said although current courses at UCLA teach cybersecurity fundamentals, she thinks the computer science department lacks more advanced courses that are applicable in the real word.
“NetSec aims to give people the cybersecurity skills necessary to become penetration testers or to write code that is secure and can’t be hacked,” she added.
Akshara Sundararajan, a second-year computer science student and incoming NetSec president, said when a player gets a capture the flag question correct, they receive a “flag.” A flag is a code they can copy and paste into the main page for the competition. The team receives a different number of points for each flag it captures based upon the problem’s difficulty.
Sundararajan said capture the flag is a beginner-friendly, hands-on introduction to cybersecurity for individuals interested in computer science.
“Learning the skills is very hard online,” she said. “We want to create a community for cybersecurity, which is an area that is very hard to get into.”
During Saturday’s competition, NetSec members acted as mentors, giving hints to teams that were stuck on problems. Players also earn extra points by answering trivia style quiz questions about computer science topics, which they could use to pay for hints.
Chris Rose, a UCLA alumnus who founded the cybersecurity company Ariento and spoke during Saturday’s event, said more people are beginning to care about cybersecurity after recent security breaches of personal information. For example, many Americans’ identities were stolen during the Equifax breach in May 2017.
UCLA experienced its own cyberattack on May 18, when an attack on a Summer Sessions and International Education Office server could have potentially given hackers access to thousands of students’ personal information.
Al-Rehani said that because UCLA currently offers one cybersecurity course, Computer Science 136: Introduction to Computer Security, NetSec created a petition in winter quarter for UCLA to add another computer science course that teaches cybersecurity, collecting signatures via a Google Form.
Marlon Trifunovic, a second-year mathematics of computation student, said participating in capture the flag piqued his interest in cybersecurity. Trifunovic added that the problems in the game were difficult to solve.
“I was intimidated at first (by the competition),” said Trifunovic. “I’m still intimidated.”
NetSec will be hosting a hacking workshop in two weeks and will hold a workshop during fall quarter to teach students about website vulnerabilities and cybersecurity tools, Sundararajan said.