DAHLONEGA, Ga. - Georgia's universities such as the University of North Georgia and Georgia Tech are producing some of the country's top future malware hunters.
These students can be considered the "good guys." The National Security Agency's competition tested their ability to hack into different platforms and solve real-world problems, some of which could save lives.
Malicious hackers often make the news, but there are good ones, and the world needs more of them.
University of North Georgia students Houstoun Hall and Brenna Durham are on the right track to becoming professional malware hunters.
Imagine the people behind the screens, fighting off security breaches.
The sophomore and senior are part of the UNG team that just placed first in the National Security Agency's "codebreaker competition."
"The students did everything such as hacking a fit bit to track their location, hacking drones," Professor Bryson Payne said.
This isn't a one-day ordeal. Students juggle tedious coding tasks and their typical schoolwork for more than three months.
It's a team effort, but the students who successfully complete each task first get special bragging rights.
This year, that student is Houstoun. He said he finished the final operation with a few days to spare.
"It took 200 hours to really finally get to task eight," he said. "Honestly, I put 50 of those hours just on task eight."
That task required reverse engineering to shut down multiple drones at once with a single command.
Two Georgia schools came out on top. UNG placed first, with more than 323,000 points. Georgia Tech placed second with about 74,000 points.
Dr. Payne said the challenges are based on real-life events.
"It's that mix of skills that the NSA, Department of Defense, and big employers in the industry are looking for and we're really excited and very proud our students topped the list of 450 schools again this year," he said.
The experience, they said, is the perfect training ground to protect the average Joe's information, or preparing for a future in the NSA.
"It's like having real-world applications, really helps me say that I did this, it keeps me standing different from someone who might not have done this competition," Brenna said.
Malicious hackers... beware.
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