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NSA Opens Annual Codebreaker Challenge for Students

The National Security Agency (NSA) has once again launched its coding challenge, which presents an opportunity for college students to flex their coding skills and tackle national cybersecurity issues.

The 2017 NSA Codebreaker Challenge sets up a fictional storyline in which unusual network activity has been detected within a large supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that controls critical infrastructure for multiple cities. Through a series of six tasks, students must assess which systems are compromised and neutralize the threat.

Last year, the competition drew more than 3,300 students across 481 educational institutions worldwide, with the most participation coming out of Georgia Tech, Dakota State and Carnegie Mellon. At the latter campus, Robert Xiao completed all six tasks in less than 18 hours to clinch first place (while second place, for comparison, took three days).

“None of the tasks were trivial to solve, but task 6 in particular required demonstrating an exceptional ability to analyze unfamiliar code, defeat several anti-reverse engineering tactics, and ultimately craft an exploit leveraging vulnerabilities similar to those that exist in real-world applications,” the 2016 results page explained.

Registration opened on Sept. 15 and the challenge ends on Dec. 31.

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