ConUHacks: coding competition at Concordia sponsors protection against cybersecurity

The Communications Security Establishment was looking for top coders last week at ConUHacks, as risks to cybersecurity increase

Coders from all ranges of experience filled the halls of Concordia’s JMSB and Hall buildings to compete in HackConcordia’s annual hackathon, ConUHacks. The event was host to many sponsors who planted respective booths to receive and recruit promising talent or “hackers.” 

The event was established by Terril Fancott, a computer science and software engineering professor at Concordia, who passed away in 2020. HackConcordia continues to host the hackathon in honour of his memory. 

A hackathon has teams of coders programming a project in a set amount of time. At ConUHacks, participants had 24 hours to finish their work and impress the judges to potentially win prizes. 

This year, the event had the most participants since its start in 2014, with over 800 applications.

However, the presence of the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSE) at the event was more than just for recruiting top coders. As  people continue to crowd the internet with their personal information, the CSE hoped to raise awareness of  cybersecurity threats.

Vatsa Shah, co-president of HackConcordia, said students interested in working for the CSE were encouraged to complete their sponsored challenge. Teams that could design programs around cybersecurity — for example, apps that could test password security — would be eligible to win extra prizes. Most importantly, they’d catch the attention of the CSE’s recruiters. 

“The experience they might gain here, that translates to real life,” said Shah. “Pushing to the limit, with challenges they can only get here.”

In a recent article by the CBC, head of the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security Sami Khoury advised to be more cautious than ever when posting personal information online. Khoury singled out TikTok as an application that caught the organization’s attention. 

Darren Holden, a software developer for the CSE, said that his team works towards building and maintaining applications that block malicious domains from Canadian networks. Although Holden couldn’t speak to specific threats on TikTok, he advised caution when using social media. 

“There’s always potential for harm due to poor cybersecurity,” Holden said. 

Holden encouraged those who are concerned about cybersecurity threats to visit the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security advisory website, which offers advice to users on safely using the web. 

The hackathon also gave novel coders the chance to gain experience in a setting that offered new challenges.

Nicolas Pop, a second-year computer science student at Concordia, took advantage of ConUHacks to hone his skills in A.I. programming. He recognized the importance of cybersecurity and expressed interest in applying to the CSE. 

“As we move towards a society that practically lives online, we need to protect the vital information being stored,” said Pop. Although his knowledge of coding for cybersecurity was limited, he took the opportunity to speak with recruiters and further immerse himself in a new field.  

Although he didn’t win, Pop aims to practice his skills to program a project of better quality next year. 


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