From left: Khatina Haidari, Mahima Shrestha, Sheryl Mantik – RMIT University

Talk about being thrown in the deep end – it may be years before they toss their academic hats in the air, and yet 427 university and TAFE students have been snatched out of cyber security classrooms and thrown behind computers to find and fight real hackers.

In offices all over the country the students sit in 109 tight-knit teams for 24 continuous hours – each hunched in front of laptops, eyes dancing over reams of computer code in search of hidden security flaws.

They have joined Australia’s latest cyber security outfit, Break Out Box, to help secure local businesses against digital intrusion. Their art is methodical and precise; something as small as a single apostrophe, if missed, could let hackers make off with piles of sensitive data.

Thankfully the gruelling work is a simulation, and part of the annual Cyber Security Challenge Australia hacking competition (CySCA2018) which, starting today, throws students into the very real tests they can expect to face when they leave campus to join the booming cyber security industry.

As a Challenge sponsor, we have built a new technology platform for the 2018 competition to cater for the growing number of players, which has increased by 117 on last year.

“The Challenge is a real representation of what these students can expect to face when defending real businesses,” says Telstra’s APAC Chief Information Security Officer, Berin Lautenbach.

“Students are playing multiple professional security roles, finding security vulnerabilities before bad guys do, and chasing a hacker’s footsteps through code and logs.

“These are some of the skills they will need for a technical career in the cyber security industry”.

From left: Jin Han, Adam Kues, Takuhiro Kikuchi, Ethan Cheng – Melbourne University

The Challenge lives up to its name. Some of the brightest cyber security professionals spent eight months planning the digital mazes students are right now attempting to navigate and conquer.

Each element is a realistic representation of what it will be like to protect a security-focused business where the stakes are high. They must protect the systems of Break Out Box and that of its customers.

However, students that expect the competition to run as an average nine-to-five day-in-the-life of a security professional will be shocked. Plot twists abound that set the Challenge apart from a run-of-the-mill hacker romp.

The Challenge is the brainchild of Telstra, the Federal Government’s Australian Cyber Security Centre and AustCyber, PwC, Cisco, Microsoft, Commonwealth Bank, Splunk, BAE Systems, and HackLabs.

While prizes are on offer, all students win the recognition of the cyber security industry which eyes players for potential recruitment into a wide number of attractive career positions.

The winning team will score flights, accommodation, and entry to the popular DEFCON conference in Las Vegas in August next year.

Those in second place will win flights, accommodation, and entry to the hugely-popular and sold-out Kiwicon hacker confab in Wellington, New Zealand next month.

The third-placed team will head off to the equally popular BSides hacker conference in Canberra next year.

Placeholders will also score a tablet or mobile device for each team member. Other individual prizes are on offer for the competition’s various challenges.

You can stay up to date by following #CySCA2018 or at the Cyber Security Challenge Australia 2018 website.