Dos Pueblos High School (DPHS) students make up the first team of high schoolers to advance to the country’s largest cyber-security hacking competition. The team scored the most points out of any high school team in the country in last month’s contest and will advance to the finals.
The DP students were one of 15 teams to make it to the Capture the Flag (CTF) hacking competition after they secured enough points in an online, 72-hour international event against more than 1,000 teams from 82 countries. CTF is part of Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
The computer hackers will compete with 14 other teams to solve 40 technical security problems and “find flags” to win cash prizes and scholarships. For the all-expense trip, four of the six DP team members will head to Brooklyn next month: seniors Andrew Dutcher, Alex Meiburg, and Charlie Green and sophomore John Grosen. DP seniors Delia Bullock and Sophie Russo were also on the original team and played essential roles to earn DP’s spot in the finals, but they will not accompany the rest of the gang to New York.
Internationally, only high school teams in Russia and Japan scored higher than the DPHS team, but the New York competition is only open to U.S. and Canada teams.
The DP students said they became involved in computer programing in junior high school and all expressed a desire to continue on a science/math-centered path — CS or “computer something” as Meiburg quipped — in college. “Hacking is the greatest puzzle game ever created,” he added.
Last spring, the six-person team placed first in Toaster Wars, which is an online hacking and computer security competition for high schoolers. The team won $8,000 for their school and $4,000 for their team plus $1,000 worth of Amazon web services and technical books. They said since entering Toaster Wars on a whim, their interest in computer hacking has peaked.
The DP students also referred to the “white hats,” which are worn by the good guys in cyber security. “Black hats” are worn by those who use their knowledge to break into computer systems. They explained by learning how to break into programs, they in turn learn how to create more secure code. This year, DPHS offers an introductory level class, “Exploring Computer Science,” in addition to its Advanced Placement computer science course.
Kevin McKee — computer science, AVID, and physics teacher at DPHS — advises the students. “They recruited me,” he said, explaining the group deserves all of the credit for their recent success. McKee said students will stay in a hotel across the street from the competition venue so they can sleep when needed during the 36-hour contest. He added the group will spend an extra day exploring N.Y.C. after the event.
The DP team also said they worked closely with UCSB students and credited a team of computer hackers there for sharing knowledge. UCSB sophomore Jake Corina will also travel to New York to compete in the CSAW finals. Corina collaborated with Northeastern University students to form a team that finished first in last month’s preliminary round.
The competition in November will be much more challenging the preliminary contest, according to a CSAW organizer. He explained the DP team scored on par with teams comprising undergraduate students, so judges offered them a spot in the typically university-level event.
The 36-hour CSAW contest will include a high school forensics competition, a digital murder-mystery game, the Department of Homeland Security Quiz, and other games to discover and exploit hardware vulnerabilities “to build an important workforce of the future.”