CSRA hosts hackathon to help promote cyber security

Bossier City was ground zero for a competition that helped increase cyber security readiness.

The CSRA Integrated Technology Center was the site for the Cyber Institute Hackathon — a competition between the next generation technology company’s employees. The event served as training for the company’s IT experts to develop innovative solutions for complex, real-world challenges in various forms of technology realms. 

“Similar to how a football team practices before a game, we’re doing hands-on drills before the big game,” said Mimi Hedgecock, Senior Principal, External Affairs- Integrated Technology Center.

The event saw seven teams with various technical backgrounds in Application Development, Cyber, DevOps and Cloud Services set up a website and use up resources in the cloud. They then loaded up a fairly standard website that would at some point be attacked. The teams then had to respond to those threats.

The competition room amounted to teams typing away and periodically collaborating to solve problems, while also checking a live leaderboard at the front of the room.

“As long as they can keep scoring points, they’re going to keep on going,” laughed Bennett Upton, associate programmer.

Paula Thrasher, director of digital services, said the Hackathons are a very popular way to practice cyber security and felt that extending the competition to other positions who have a hand in responding to security incidents would be valuable.

Competitors then spent weeks learning the technology and concepts involved before undergoing the intense, two-day exercise.

The goal is to give them exposure and skills they can take back to their job.

“Cyber security is of the utmost importance when doing anything with technology,” Hedgecock said.

That was underscored by the teams finding that within 15 minutes of putting a server on the cloud, they were already getting pings from China.

“It made them realize it’s not just something we say they should think about, it really is important,” Paula said. “In today’s world, every company running IT is getting threats sent at them every second of every day from every corner of the world.”

But all of this is prepping for something that is on a cyber warfare level far from every day life, right?

Paula pointed out that we don’t have to look far for a real world example of how cyber attacks can affect and even cripple our day-to-day lives. She noted that our cars, airplanes, banks, gas pumps, thermostats and even lights are all touched in some way by computers.

“The most recent example is Wannacry ransomware (where a hacker infiltrates a system and encrypts something that can’t be unlocked without the key, which is usually held for money or some other form of payment) that impacted the UK’s health group. There were hospitals with no IT system because of security vulnerability and that impacts peoples’ lives.”

“That’s one example, there are more and will be more.”

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