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SUITSA setting the pace in hackathons

Trevor Saudi


Last year, as the world was swallowed up in Covid-19 restrictions, members of Strathmore University’s IT Student Association sat behind their screens and won their way through a number of hackathons and Capture the Flag (CTF) challenges.

A capture the flag (CTF) contest is a special kind of cybersecurity competition designed to challenge its participants to solve computer security problems and/or capture and defend computer systems.

In April 2020, Trevor Saudi, a third year Informatics and Computer Science student took part in the DefCon challenges.

“We’ve taken up top spots in highly contested hackathons geared towards cyber security.”

Safe Mode

Defcon is one of the most notable hacker conventions in the world. Since its inception in 1993, tech enthusiasts have gathered annually at Las Vegas.  This year, however, the in person conference was cancelled and substituted with a “safe mode” competition, in reference to the name most operating systems use for their diagnostic and recovery modes.

More than 700 teams with 1646 people to be exact, – showed up into the boxing arena. Saudi’s team – Kelvin Koimet, Mike Ikua and Gilbert Mutura – sailed through to position 16 in the qualifying rounds where the 20 teams proceeded to the finals.

To play in the final round, each team was required to find a VPN configuration file and use it to get access the network that they would be hacking into during the finals. Saudi’s team, for the second time, came in 16th. For their effort, they each won a voucher for OSCP, a foundational penetration testing certification, tagged at $1000.

The team then took part in Graycon, organized by Defcon. This time, they emerged in the third place after playing against 416 teams. They came in first at the Shehacks CTF, held in collaboration with CyberSpace Kenya.

In July 2020, Saudi was in a team that took 2nd place in the cybertalents national hacking competition. This gave him a slot to represent Kenya in the Egypt regionals. Again, due to travel restriction, his team played it from the comfort of their homes. “We went up against tough teams from Tunisia, Algeria, South Sudan, in total, 54 teams. The first Kenyan team was placed at position 20, while my team came in 25th.”

And a week ago, the Software Engineer Intern at Nouveta Limited went solo and came in 4th at the Aspire CTF organized by ekraal innovation hub. He took the best write up prize for the CTF that forced the participants to flex their muscles in linux skills and networking.

“Taking part in these competitions is a favourite past time. I enjoy the adrenaline that comes with it and the skills one acquires in the process. It’s good to have fun while you learn.”

Intervarsity competition

This week, he is gearing up for the final round of the Intervasity cyberspace Kenya CTF competition in which two Strathmore teams made it to the finals. His team mates, Victor Mungai, and Caleb Thuku are now awaiting the finals slated for an all-night completion slated for March 5, 2021, 6 pm to 6 am. The first blood (whoever solves the CTF first) for the Windows Active Directory in this CTF will receive a year’s subscription of the Pentester Academy worth $1200.

For Victor, preparation means going through a CTF a day in order to win this prize. “It took 12 hours to capture the flag in the previous round. I am pretty confident we will win this.”

Victor came in to the interview for this article with a sling bag holding his bass guitar. Apart from having a love for IT, his passion for music is evident. “I’ve just come from servicing it. I learnt to play it while at church. It brings in some money when I am called upon to play at events.”

The third year Informatics and Computer Science student points out that he first sought to venture into medical field. “I wanted to get into it for societal prestige and the money that comes with it although my heart was not into it. Later I realised this was the wrong motivation. Being in ICS is where my skills will be utilized best.”

“You’ll find me on the Try hack me platform practicing my skills. I am currently at position 13 in the country but I’d like to reclaim the second position I was in before.  I am mostly found here doing a lot of CTFs. I was position 13 in Kenya after having bounced from position 2.”

We wish the team all the best in the next competition!