The National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure System (NICIS), which comprises of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), the South African National Research Network (SANReN) and the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) will be hosting the CHPC National Conference in November/December 2024. At this conference, SANReN will host the seventh annual Cyber Security Challenge (CSC) competition. The purpose of the competition is to stimulate interest in Cyber Security in general, but more specifically in the field of Network Security within Southern African Tertiary institutions. Therefore, this competition is aimed at university students who are interested in information security fields such as penetration testing, incident response, digital forensics, cryptography, and cyber security training.

The annual Cyber Security Challenge competition will consist of:

  • A jeopardy-styled Capture the Flag (CTF) event that will test the problem-solving skills of participating teams by requiring them to complete challenges that replicate real-world scenarios. The challenges include binary exploitation, cryptography, web exploitation, reverse engineering, digital forensics, and mobile phone security.
  • An attack/defend system for team vs. team battles. Here every team has their own system that consists of dedicated preconfigured hardware and software. In the attack/defence competition, the teams must hack each other but also fix vulnerabilities in their own system (through patching).
  • Sponsored challenges that provide students with the opportunity to gain exposure to unique cybersecurity challenges.
  • An opportunity to conduct and experience social engineering in a controlled environment.

The key benefit of the CSC is the opportunity for university students to receive exposure to current and trending cyber security topics. Such exposure will stimulate interest in the field of cyber and information security, growing the next generation of ethical hackers. Additionally, during the competition, the students may discover new 0-day vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can then be negated before they can be used by malicious hackers. Finally, the CSC competition offers an opportunity to discover innovative thinkers and identify cyber security specialists in the making.

Due to the high interest among students, the CSC competition is divided into two rounds. The qualifier rounds allow students from universities across Southern Africa (including Botswana, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho) to compete for positions in the final. Upon completion of the qualifier rounds, the top teams will be invited to represent their university in the final at the CHPC National Conference.

The eventual aim is for SANReN to sponsor the winning student team to compete in an appropriate international competition, such as the BRICS Future Skills Challenge or the International Cybersecurity Competition, similar to the CHPC’s sponsorship of the CHPC Student Cluster Competition winners to participate in the ISC Student Cluster Competition. There is also an opportunity to initiate and grow the Cyber Security Challenge into an African Cyber Games event to potentially be hosted in collaboration with the three Regional Research and Education Networks (RRENs) spanning Africa.