College of Computing News

Georgia Tech Students Win Second in NSA Cybersecurity Competition

Georgia Tech students finished second in the National Security Administration’s (NSA) Codebreaker Challenge this January.

NSA designed the challenge for students to learn how to reverse engineer malware in a real-word setting. Running for 100 days from September to Jan. 6, each task increased in difficulty and points. Tech students earned 32,750 points, beating out 376 other universities for the second spot.

This wasn’t just a cybersecurity competition for fun, though. It was a course requirement for School of Computer Science (SCS) Assistant Professor Taesoo Kim’s Information Security Lab class.

To keep the things fair, students weren’t taught how to win Codebreaker, but they learned threat assessment at the binary code level and exploitation techniques to discover security vulnerabilities that helped them progress in the competition. Although most labs are graded by problems solved, teaching assistants monitored how many Codebreaker challenges each student completed.

“By watching their progress, I knew that they really understood what we were teaching and were ready for real-world challenges,” teaching assistant Insu Yun said.

Computer science master’s student Asutosh Palai joined the class for a chance to learn binary exploitation and enjoyed testing it out at the renowned competition. Even though he had some experience with binary reversing, or understanding how a compiled program works without the source code, he couldn’t have completed the final challenge on a new open source blockchain called Ethereum without the knowledge he learned in the lab.

“They taught us how to think critically about our code, and to find the loopholes in the assumptions made while writing them.”