ConUHacks: winners’ submission sparks outrage online

The team found themselves at the center of controversy after winning first place

The winning team of Concordia’s ConUHacks event came under fire last weekend after accusations of violating competition rules were posted online.

ConUHacks, the event which the project was produced for, is a yearly competition during which teams must conceptualize and code an application in only 24 hours to impress judges and potentially win prizes. This “hackathon” is primarily organized by Concordia’s HackConcordia club.

NearByNow, the winning submission, was accused of being presented to judges under false pretence and omitting key lines of code to prove its authenticity. This led to an investigation into the validity of the winners’ application.

Although the accusations were proven false, the winning coders are now worried of online harassment. 

“I was confused. We all were,” said Samuel Chuang, a fourth-year computer science student at Concordia and one member of the winning team. “Honestly, I had to think to myself, maybe we did do something wrong.”

Chuang said everything went well during the competition, leaving the judges impressed. Their hard work was rewarded with first place. 

Six days later, Chuang found out about the controversy forming around their application.

A post on Concordia’s official Reddit page that called the team’s winning project fraudulent garnered the attention of many who had participated at the event. 

Soon, Chuang said he’d seen a post by an anonymous user on Concordia’s official engineering and computer science Discord server, suggesting users should flood the team’s LinkedIn pages with negative comments. 

“Hate on the project as much as you want but there’s a potential of ruining people’s reputation,”said Chuang.

Chuang and his team contacted Major League Hacking (MLH), who help run weekend-long hackathons like ConUHacks and partly oversee judgment. 

“We found what we would expect to see from a hackathon project built in just 24 hours,” said Ryan Swift, a member of the MLH who reviewed the team’s project.  

According to Swift, Chuang’s team was accused of faking the demonstration of their project. More specifically, by faking results given by the programmed A.I., which ran the application. They were also suspected of omitting the code which the A.I. had been programmed through- what’s known as a “neural network.” 

NearByNow shows users information about a storefront or company in real time once given a logo. This feature relies on multiple application programming interfaces (API), for example one from Google Maps. The A.I. then communicates with the API to produce the desired results. 

The neural network was not made public, which added to the accusers’ suspicions. Swift said his team verified its existence as well as its timestamps to confirm that it was coded during the hackathon. 

The team would also “hard-code” data given by the application. Hard-coding data means that the results given by the program are directly put into the code rather than obtained by prompts. According to Swift, this was done for simplicity’s sake and the team had done nothing to break the competition’s rules.

“Because they are developed in just a single weekend, hackers don’t typically follow industry-best practices,” said Swift. “Their projects are often laden with bugs, and many features aren’t fully completed.” 

Vatsa Shah, co-president of HackConcordia, the club responsible for organizing ConUHacks, said his team did not appreciate the public accusations of malicious intent towards the team. “Our team is always willing to investigate and review issues as they arise, but we prefer to do so in private specifically because of situations like this where public backlash can take over,” he said.

An official comment was written by the MLH under the original accusatory Reddit post stating that the investigation had been completed.


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. 


Hackers meet up at Concordia

ConUHacks II brought together students from all over North America

ConUHacks, Concordia University’s hackathon, was held this weekend at the John Molson School of Business. More than 400 students from all over North America in the fields of software engineering and computer science came together to create an application or website with their respective teams.

The students began working on their projects Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. and had until the same time on Sunday to finish them. During the closing ceremony at 4 p.m., the six teams who made the finals showcased their projects to the other participants.

The application that won first place was Blindspot, a selfie-taking application for blind or visually impaired people completely controlled by voice commands. Youssef Chahdoura, Nicholas Lee, George Shen and Michel Jing created the app. Chahdoura studies at the University of Ottawa, while the other three study at Waterloo University.

“I came in with the idea that I wanted to help blind people, and then my teammates had the idea to take the perfect picture,” said Jing. When asked what the hardest part of their hackathon was, Jing said that, for some of them, it was their first time coding in Java for Android so it was a challenge. It was Chahdoura’s first hackathon, so he said to win first place was “a really awesome experience.”

A particularly interesting project that came out of the hackathon was  the application created by Team 70. The application, explained by the team as a mix of Tinder and Facebook, initially invites the user to log their course number and university and they will then be matched with someone from their class to study with. The team said they will eventually expand their application and create a group chat.

Another interesting application was, a website that allows people to bring all their Instagram stories together to create a big story. The user creates a story and then invites friends to add on to it. The website is currently available for Instagram users to try out.

Over the weekend, students were also welcomed to attend different workshops offered by the sponsoring companies, such as Microsoft and Morgan Stanley. Attendees were able to visit a career fair where some company representatives were recruiting students for internships, including Google and Spiria.

ConUHacks will be back next year, but the date of the hackathon has not been decided yet.

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