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CHIPS Articles: NSA Georgia Research Raises the Stakes at HackGT

NSA Georgia Research Raises the Stakes at HackGT
By CHIPS Magazine - December 17, 2019
For the first time, the National Security Agency presented challenges and awarded prizes at HackGT, an annual 36-hour hackathon with more than 1,000 students from more than 80 universities in October 2019. The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted the event, NSA said.

The NSA Georgia Research team led the NSA's participation in HackGT, an annual hackathon organized by Georgia Tech students, which is of strategic interest given the school's rankings in “Major League Hacking” and the computer science and engineering disciplines. The school is a Center of Academic Excellence, and importantly, has an ongoing partnership with NSA through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement.

HackGT provided NSA the opportunity to interact directly with exceptional technical talent and boosted recruitment efforts, NSA explained. By sponsoring relevant challenges, NSA also underscored its commitment to fostering cybersecurity best practices and reinforces NSA's leadership role in cyber. The event’s success is due, in part, to the close collaboration between NSA Georgia Research and NSA’s cross-directorate leadership and technical mentor support, NSA explained.

Hackathons provide an innovative interactive forum where students with an interest in technology can learn and share their project over the course of a few days. The event generated more than 4,500 applicants from universities across the nation with over 1,000 students participating with diverse representation of women and minorities, NSA explained. Teams of up to four students submitted 218 unique projects for demonstration and judging.

Dr. Robert Runser, NSA Research Technical Director, provided an "overview of NSA and Research" to raise awareness of NSA's research interests and promote recruitment at the event. A cadre of NSA staff served as technical mentors, presented workshop talks, and provided guidance on two Agency-sponsored challenges – best project using Secure Software Coding Best Practices and best project using Open Source NSA technologies.

NSA technical mentors presented five workshop talks covering NSA tools and techniques that participants could use in their projects:

  • Introduction to Software Reverse Engineering using Ghidra.
  • Security and Tools Overview Highlighting Secure Programming Best Practices.
  • Simon and Speck Lightweight Block Cipher Algorithm.
  • Beergarden Open Source Framework to Convert Functions into Services using Python.
  • SIMP (an NSA-developed tool that performs system management and automated compliance functions leveraging SELinux).

For the Secure Software Coding Challenge, NSA awarded first place to "Shop Around," which reinvents users shopping experience to recommend where to shop to get the best prices for all their purchases. Honorable mention went to "Zap Pay," which allows users to securely share money and divide peer-to-peer payments with their native smart phone messaging app.

For the Open Source NSA Technology Challenge, the first-place winner was "Melody Password," which generated, retrieved, and managed passwords by combining a given service and chosen song. Honorable mention went to "Canvas Assistant," which integrated course management software to provide students with up-to-date information about their courses. Both winners applied the open source Beergarden tool for their implementations. All project submissions can be found here.

NSA’s vital research program focuses on four critical goals:

-- Develops the means to dominate the global computing and communications network.

-- Manages the overload of information in our environment to turn that overload to U.S. strategic advantage.

-- Provides the means for ubiquitous, secure collaboration both within the U.S. government and through its interactions with various partners.

-- Creates the means for penetrating into the "hard" targets that threaten national security wherever, whenever, or whomever they may be.

For more information about NSA’s robust research in areas, such as cybersecurity and computer and analytic science, please visit:

For more information about NSA career opportunities, please visit

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