Annual Hackathon event challenges the tech savvy

Overnight ethical hacking event puts programmers to the test

Carter Secor, Staff Reporter

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Most weekends, students at UW-Whitewater tend to leave the city to go home or to spend time with family or do things off campus. This dynamic normally leaves the campus dark and empty at night during the weekend. But on November 15 and 16 in Hyland Hall, the scene was quite the opposite.

The Hackathon, which was held through the night on November 15 is an annual event hosted by two computer science organizations on campus, The Association for Information Systems (AIS) and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA). The event focuses on showcasing the skills of the people participating in the event by giving them challenges.

This year, there were two challenges for people to showcase their skills. The first challenge is the same challenge that has been the core of the Hackathon ever since its inception. This challenge known as “ethical hacking” is where participants are connected to what is called a “virtual machine”, a computer program that creates an operating system disconnected from the computer that is running the program. This allows the user to test things that might be dangerous in a safe environment without risking their entire computer if something goes wrong. The participants use one of these virtual machines with connections to websites purposely designed to have vulnerabilities in their security.

The job of the participant is to break into the website by finding and exploiting these holes and finding information that could be used to break further into the website.    After carrying out this task, the participants then write a report on how they got into the website and what security measures they would recommend to make it more secure.

The other challenge being held at the event was a development challenge where participants would be tasked with developing an app or game. The bigger challenge behind this is the teams or, in some cases, individuals who chose this side of the Hackathon had to come up with an idea, and do everything that comes along with developing an app or a game. This includes writing the code, building a database if needed, putting in audio, as well as a user interface, and everything else within the span of just over 14 hours.

With participation and attendance growing, the opportunity for people to meet others that are interested in development or cyber security has improved.

“We wanted to give the students a chance to just be creative,” said Josh Barrow, president of AIS, the organization running the development side of the Hackathon. “You see a lot of kids collaborating and I think that’s the main key of the Hackathon- getting people to collaborate and make something.”

Both of these challenges had judges from the field who would determine who would win. Having people from the industry at the event also creates an opportunity for the participants to make themselves known and show off their skills.

“Kids can make six figures out of school and we should be preparing them to do that,” said Nicholas Anastasi, the president of ISACA, the organization running the ethical hacking branch of the event. “These projects get kids experience and gets them interested in different things that they aren’t being exposed to.”

The students in the event enjoyed being able to participate, meet new people and learn more.

“The Hackathon so far has been pretty cool,” said Adrian Hernandez, a Whitewater student and part of a team developing a game similar to battleship.     On the team with Hernandez were three other Whitewater students who hadn’t met before that night.

Hernandez also pointed out how cool it was for him to be able to talk to the judges and showcase what he and his team had been working on.

After the 14 hour long event had ended, each team presented their project. Those who competed on the ethical hacking side, went over their “attack narrative” and explained step by step how they broke into the fake websites they were targeting. For the development side, the teams showcased many projects, from recipe databases, to card games, to a prototype for a music hosting website, and other projects.

While the judges did give out prizes, there was a sense from the organizers and the participants that everyone who had participated had won something in a sense. From new friends and skills, to job opportunities and connections. Even those who didn’t win first place in their branch of the Hackathon still got a worthwhile experience.