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Carnegie Mellon To Host Security Contest for Middle and High School Students

The Carnegie Mellon University student team that won the "Capture the Flag" contest at DEFCON 22 earlier this year will be working behind the scenes in a security competition designed to entice middle and high school students to learn more about security work. The second annual picoCTF competition dares students in grades 6-12 to "reverse engineer, break, hack, decrypt or do whatever it takes" to solve computer challenges.

"When your father disappears under strange circumstances," the storyline goes, "a flash drive is your only clue to his whereabouts. You will need to use all of the computer security skills at your disposal to uncover and decipher critical evidence. Can you solve the mystery before it's too late?"

Last year's event drew 2,000 teams from a thousand schools, organizers said. The goal is to give students a taste of computer science and security in a safe, legal environment.

The event is being managed by Professor David Brumley, technical director of CyLab, a research center focused on security. "The main goal of this competition is to excite young minds about computer security and inspire the next generation of computer scientists in our country," he said in a statement.

Brumley will be co-hosting the contest with Plaid Parliament of Pwning, the winning CyLab team at DEFCON, a hacker's conference that takes place every year in Las Vegas. That student team will be working with Daedalus, a student team from Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, to build the game to be used in picoCTF. In the digital version of Capture the Flag, participants pursue virtual flags by any means possible.

This year's contest runs from October 27 to November 7, 2014 and will provide new tools to help teachers use the event as a classroom activity.

Sponsors, including Trend Micro, Boeing, Qualcomm, the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency, have put up $30,000 in prize money. Winners will have the opportunity to be flown to the university for an "immersion day" and the presentation of awards.

Participants can sign up online at the picoCTF Web site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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