Cyber Security Club cracks codes
New club masters coding techniques and decodes computer puzzles
April 13, 2017
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While to most students coding would appear to be mere gibberish, to the members of the brand new Cyber Security Club, this seemingly random string of twenty characters is a puzzle to solve, and a pretty easy one at that.
Most of the group’s meetings begin by laying down a few rules for that day’s encryption and decryption practice: the hidden message had to be a real message, the code had to be twenty characters long, and the winning team gets candy.
Each team of about four students each has ten minutes to prepare a hand-typed code in python to encrypt their message.
This new club “has a lot of potential” for success Sophomore Greyson Miller said. He joined the club with some background in computer science but hadn’t known any Python, so he is largely learning from scratch.
Sophomore Aidan Klibanoff agreed and said that while he “did a program two summers ago” he entered the club with not much background knowledge in computers and had no problem fitting in. He explained that he enjoyed the club’s focus on hands-on-learning and the opportunity to “learn more about the subject.”
Each team sat huddled around the monitor as they prepared a caesar cipher, a simple cryptography tool where each letter in the original message is replaced with a letter corresponding to a certain number of letters up or down in the alphabet (i.e. A +3 is a D).
Despite this system’s relative simplicity, one student realized that by increasing the key for every letter of the message, they could complicate the cipher into a vigenere cipher, or a system of interwoven caesar ciphers, leaving the other team with 26^26 (or 6.1561196e+36) potential solutions, an impossibly high number of options to solve with a brute force attack.
While the opposing team was quickly able to solve the simple caesar cipher (the secret phrase mentioned at the beginning of the article was “buckminsterfuller(eme)” a famous architect, systems theorist and inventor) the vigenere cipher they had developed would prove more difficult.
“[In our meetings] we get to work on problems” Junior Silpian Dhiantravan said. He also explained that if somebody is interested and willing to learn, they would be able to succeed as “the commands we are using aren’t very complicated.”
“Anyone can join, you don’t need to have a special ability or skill” club founder sophomoreMatt Geimer said. He stressed that anybody who is interested should come and try it out.
Cyber Security and computer science right now are a lucrative field to enter, and that can be a draw for many students. Many of the current members are at least interested in a potential computer science career.
Geimer is passionate about cyber security, and after being inspired by reading about another school’s cyber security competition, his interest had been piqued. He explained “the whole idea of being able to protect data, and stop people from reaching items they shouldn’t be reaching for, really appealed to me.”
Dhiantravan echoed these sentiments, and added he was grateful to have access to such a unique opportunity in high school.
After ten minutes, the caesar cipher had been solved and both teams devoted themselves towards cracking the substantially more complicated vigenere cipher.
Shifting their work frequently between computers and the several whiteboards adorning the room, the team attempted to narrow the number of possible keys down from the 40,000+ possibilities.
Eventually the realization dawned on many of the club members that it was getting late, and their prospects of finding the key were slim. They took a few minutes to debrief, reflecting on things that members had learned, and errors they had made that day.
Geimer explained that the club has been going “very well” and that he is highly optimistic about the club’s future. The club is planning to expand to other games and exercises such as Minecraft and capture the flag type hacking games.
Geimer explained that being club head means being able to “show people what they can do with just a bit of thinking, and some letters.”