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ASMSA hosts statewide cybersecurity competition

November 17, 2019 at 3:00 a.m.
The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts computer science department and students with the school's robotics and computer science clubs hosted a 10-hour-long statewide cybersecurity competition Nov. 9 in the Creativity and Innovation Complex.

The competition, known as the HighSchoolHack, drew 20 teams from 15 high schools across Arkansas. ASMSA students did not compete, but rather designed the challenges and staffed the event. This is the second year the school has hosted the competition.

"We've participated in some other competitions like this," ASMSA computer science instructor Nick Seward said. "There's this magical thing that happens after they spend so much time beating their heads against the wall trying to solve a problem," he said.

The competition consisted of a series of challenges and puzzles that focused on reverse engineering, cryptography, programming, pen testing, web vulnerabilities, forensics and other skills.

According to the competition's website, HighSchoolHack is "a Jeopardy-style, capture the flag competition," in which teams work to find solutions and capture as many flags, and therefore points, as possible before running out of time. The more difficult the challenge, the more points are awarded for the completion of that challenge.

"Each challenge can be designed to teach a different skill. So we're trying to hit on some basic programming and cybersecurity skills," Seward said.

"HighSchoolHack is not the kind of event where teams focus on building a solution to one problem and walk away with finished code and a potential product. What you walk away with instead is enhanced understanding of computer science, cybersecurity, the power of intensive team building and the knowledge that you just completed something epic," the site states.

Seward called the competition "semi-educational," with "good entertainment value."

"We don't want to take ourselves too seriously," he said.

Two Garland County schools, Hot Springs World Class High School and Lake Hamilton High School, attended. Conway Junior High School, Conway, Dardanelle, Glen Rose, Lonoke, Mineral Springs, Parkview Magnet, Southside Charter, Stuttgart and Vilonia High Schools also competed.

A Conway High School team named Dis-Cord 2: Electric Bugaloo made up of three juniors and one sophomore took first place.

Seward said the goal of the competition was to create "something accessible for high school students," that resulted in "nice, organic learning."

"We wanted to bottle that up a little bit and see if we could do something like that for high school students, and I think we've been pretty successful," he said.

Seward said he expects ASMSA to host another HighSchoolHack event in autumn 2020.

Local on 11/17/2019

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