College Hackers Compete To Shine Spotlight on Cybersecurity

Students from MIT and Britain's University of Cambridge will spend the weekend hacking one another's computers, with the blessing of their national leaders.

The two schools are competing in a hacking contest that U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron announced last year among other joint cybersecurity projects between the two nations. The White House billed it as a showdown between the two prestigious schools, both known as heavyweights in the world of computer science.

But the colleges opted to make it a friendlier match. Instead of facing off against each other, the schools assigned their top hackers to six teams made up of students from both institutions. Teams will gather at MIT on Friday and then, for a frenzied 24 hours, try to hack into their opponents' computers and steal a trove of files.

"This isn't us versus them," said Howard Shrobe, a principal researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which is hosting the event. "It's the best of both schools working together."

Along with bragging rights, winners will receive cash prizes of more than $20,000. It's intended to be the first in a series of global cybersecurity competitions.

After a summit in Washington last year, Obama and Cameron jointly called for wider collaboration on cybersecurity. It was only weeks after the U.S. government accused North Korea of hacking computers at Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. The leaders also agreed to form a joint "cyber cell" among their national security agencies, among other measures.

Major breaches like the Sony hack have underscored what experts say is a shortage of cybersecurity professionals. An industry group reported last year that 86 percent of its members believe there is a shortage of skilled workers. The contest at MIT aims to spark interest in the field and to promote cooperation among academics.

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