BYU wins hacking competition

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Four computer science students from Brigham Young University beat some of the most prestigious schools in the country recently in a competition designed to test their wits. And they did it all in a lab in Provo.

The BYU hacking team competed against teams from UC Berkely, Texas A&M, the University of South Florida and even intern teams from the sponsoring company, Mitre, in a capture the flag, hacking competition. The team dominated the event from start to finish. Kent Seamons, a faculty member in computer science, advised the team.

“We got the lead at the beginning and kept it,” Seamons said.

Although the team was not able to prepare much for the competition they were able to earn 90 percent of the total points possible in the competition. The closest team was only able to earn 69 percent of the total points. Graduate student, Scott Ruoti from Salt Lake City, was one of the masterminds behind the team’s victory but he too was unable to prepare much.

“I had taken some security classes but nothing like what we did in the competition,” Ruoti said. “We were basically learning on the job.”

BYU’s winning team also includes one other graduate student, Kimball Germane and undergraduate student Kin Hou Lei and this semester’s team leader, Austin Whipple. The team worked together to make up for their lack of preparation.

“I had taken only a class or two but the classes were completely different than the competition,” Whipple said. “We just worked really well as a team. Somebody would know something about one subject and another person would know about another subject. We shared what we could and we just tried to figure out what we didn’t.”

Although hacking competitions are not abnormal for the BYU team, a computer hacking competition is something out of the ordinary for many BYU students who are known around the country for upholding a strict Honor Code. However, the practice is actually something many companies do in order to ensure their websites are secure for visitors. Seamons reiterated that the best defense is to know how to hack. Seamons is also an advocate of ethical computing to the students he advises.

“All the team members know that if anything unethical happens, they will be out of the program, and the program would be put in jeopardy,” Seamons said. “We don’t want students to hack in the lab and then go out and use those skills for illegal purposes. That’s not how it works.”

Although the team won seven of 19 total awards at the competition they recognize there is always so much to learn. They also admit much of their learning comes from others. Students who are interested in joining the championship team are invited to attend the team’s weekly meetings Fridays at 3 p.m, 1029 Talmage Building.

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