WSU student secures grand prize at Secur’IT cybersecurity hackathon

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Kavika Singhal, a 2nd year Cybersecurity and Behaviour student at Western Sydney University, has won the regional finals of Secur’IT Cup – a cyber-security themed hackathon.

The hackathon took place from 10th – 11th October and was organised by Kaspersky and Hackathons Australia. 13 teams from 24 institutions presented innovative solutions in the arena of augmented and virtual reality, machine learning and securing smart homes with 5G connectivity.

Team ByteMe, comprised of Kavika, Kaif and Ayesha (the latter from the University of Melbourne), won the grand prize of $1000 and the opportunity to pitch their project at the international finals of Secur’IT Cup.  They will be battling it out with about 15 other countries for the coveted $10,000 grant at the finals.

Team ByteMe – from the left, Kavika, Kaif, Ayesha

The Project

ByteMe’s “Vigilant – privacy for all” won the regional finals by demonstrating the effectiveness of educating individuals about risks they may face online.

“We created a simple app to educate mainly middle school kids about security threats. It had a simulated environment which would provide the user with situations where they would make a decision on whether to click a link or not.”, explained Kavika as a summary of the app.

“We have created a cybersecurity awareness application targeted towards the youngsters aged between 10-14 years. Also, we created simulated rooms within the application to educate the children about different aspects of security like phishing emails and fraudulent calls,” she added about the features of the app.

The uniqueness of the project compared to other modules available “is the gamification of education. Other projects usually quiz knowledge, but our app simulates the situations and encourages you to progress. If you fail to provide the correct answer, it tells you how to improve.”, Kavika added.

She informed that people are the weakest link in security and the internal threats are just as risky as external threats. Thus, security awareness was crucial for everyone.

The Vision

Kavika and ByteMe are laboriously engaged to provide an improved version of the app for the Secur’IT Cup finals. Having led the legislation aspect of the app, Kavika stressed that it would be crucial in making the app ready for app stores.

“We are working for the long term and do plan to make the app to be on app store.”, said Kavika.

The motivation behind the app was to help children who are the most vulnerable demographic online. This project includes them in the security process and the vision is to extend this to all demographics who use the internet because “humans are the most vulnerable link in cyber security” according to her.

On a personal note, Kavika has expressed her intentions to use this opportunity as a steppingstone to further her skills in cyber legislation.

The mentor panel at the hackathon

The Inspiration

Kavika is no stranger to cyber security education. Discussing her past projects, she mentioned, “I have conducted webinars for the elderly. The webinars were done to create security awareness because the elderly are also a vulnerable group online.”

While hackathons are fairly common, cybersecurity hackathons are rare. This was one of the first cyber security hackathons and Kavika was beaming with eagerness to participate. She used her previous experience and rallied her friends she made from past hackathons to bring “Vigilant” to life.

The Struggle

An international student and WoC (woman of colour) in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Kavika is a testament to the diversity at Western Sydney University. However, it comes with its own set of struggles.

“I wasn’t considered very serious or technical in the beginning. Being an international student, it is very difficult to get hands-on experience. The application process is very restrictive and even when I got the positions I wanted, I had to go through extra rounds of vetting and testing.”, she said.

She had to learn everything from scratch and had to master professional networking very quickly because she was not exposed to this back in high school in India.

However, she also added, “These struggles motivated me to do even better. To be more competent. Once you follow your passion, you are taken as a more serious person.”

Kavika has been praised for her leadership skills and considers herself an initiator. She is president of the “Cyber Security Association” which represents the cybersecurity students at WSU and aims to shed light on the opportunities in the field.

The judging panel at the hackathon

The Achievement

Her passion has driven her to march on despite the barriers. She has secured a highly coveted internship at a prestigious consulting firm. Speaking on the role of hackathons like Secur’IT Cup helping her in the process, she said, “There are several networking opportunities. The judges are industry professionals and you’ll be placed into teams with unknown people in some hackathons, too.”

Kavika’s project is available on GitHub which is crucial to display experience and competency in a technical field. She mentions that recruiters are looking for a product and will choose individuals who have something to share that sets them apart. Projects on GitHub and skills from the events have given her an edge.

Speaking about tips and advice for those following in her path she says, “Be your own person. Follow your passion. Take a risk. Sometimes you will not feel as motivated but people are happier doing something they are passionate about. Keep learning and smash it!”

Ishmamul Haque

Ishmamul Haque studies ICT and Accounting though writing remains his one true love. He is…

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