With cyberattacks proliferating worldwide, a Japanese contest for “white hat” hackers supported by organizations including the communications ministry and National Police Agency is gearing up for the final round this weekend.
The Security Contest, dubbed Seccon, provides an opportunity for those aspiring to become white hat, or “ethical hackers,” to test their skills and link up with businesses seeking computer experts who can help prevent black hat hackers from infiltrating their systems and stealing or destroying data.
The nation’s largest ethical-hacking contest was started in 2012 by the Japan Network Security Association, a nonprofit organization founded to improve the security of computer systems through education, research and information dissemination.
For the 2016 competition, the organizer held an online elimination round in mid-December that involve a record 4,350 people from 99 countries and regions, the association said. The survivors are set to compete in the two-day final round in Tokyo starting Saturday. No prize money is awarded.
Seccon is mainly aimed at students. While only 160 students competed in the inaugural contest, the number has increased sharply since the launch of online elimination rounds and the acceptance of contestants who speak English.
The association also holds entry-level versions of the contest. In October, 100 people chosen by lottery from a pool of about 400 applicants competed at an entry-level Seccon event in Tokyo. In late November, it organized another beginner-level event in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, that drew around 70 people.
The competitors were almost equally divided into students and salaried workers.
“I enjoyed trying out my knowledge,” said Hideto Mishima, a 22-year-old engineering student at Kanazawa Institute of Technology. “I want to work for a security-related business in the future.”
In addition to the question-based competition, the contest involves team match-ups designed to help white hats improve their defensive skills by learning black hats’ ways of thinking. Similar approaches are employed in the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Taiwan.
Michio Sonoda, secretary-general of the organizing committee, said the even has become popular because of its game-like scoring format, which draws a clear line between the winners and losers, raising the contestants’ motivation.
Sonoda described the growing interest in white hack competitions as a “grass-roots movement.” One example he gave was that of a group of students from institutions including the University of Electro-Communications and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, who had participated in Seccon in the past but decided to organize a similar contest of their own.
Japan is short on qualified computer security experts. Seccon acts as a bridge between entities in need and aspiring ethical hackers.
Ryokou Ito, head of the Security Operation Center at Internet Initiative Japan Inc., one of the sponsors of the contest, said, “We want to find security-minded young people and have them join us for further education on the job.”