Team MK_ULTRA, consisting of IMSA seniors Alex Goins, Ian McInerney, and Ben Taylor and coached by , competed in the High School Cyber Forensics Challenge as part of the seventh annual Cyber Security Awareness Week at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University on October 29, 2010.
The Cyber Forensics Challenge is a competition in which teams of three high school students attempt to solve a cyber mystery representing a simulated security crisis. The teams were given a scenario in which a security breach had taken place, and they were tasked with using cyber data and records to draw and support conclusions.
Team MK_ULTRA had to qualify for the national competition through a preliminary competition consisting of four teams held at IMSA. It advanced as one of the top twelve teams of the 120 teams who competed nationally.
Sponsors of the competition include companies such as AT&T and BellLabs and government agencies such as the National Science Foundation. Other agencies, like the CIA, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and National Security Agency, eagerly watched the challenge unfold. All were scouting the field looking for future interns, employees, and customers.
One purpose of the challenge is to debunk the negative connotation associated with being a "hacker". As team member Alex Goins explains, there are two types of hacker. "The black hat hackers do it for destruction or to benefit themselves. Then there are the white hat hackers who are the good guys…the ones who write the anti-virus programs and track down the bad guys. It’s the same skill set. White hat hackers just apply their skills for good rather than for evil." The competition acknowledges and celebrates the efforts and successes of the white hat hackers.
This was IMSA's first year competing in the Challenge. However, coach Namrata Pandya was very impressed, and looks forward to increased IMSA participation next year. She was especially pleased that her students got a chance to explore opportunities available for computer science students.