Code-breaking outside the classroom

Student-run Cryptography Challenge kicks off with support from the Student Innovation Centre and Augustana Campus.

Andrew Lyle - 27 January 2020

Students are set to start cracking an inter-campus code challenge this February, gaining hands-on experience with the techniques behind communication security as the inaugural student-run Cryptography Challenge is hosted through the University of Alberta's Student Innovation Centre housed in the Faculty of Science.

"The Cryptography Challenge is open to all skill levels, and is designed by UAlberta students at both North Campus and Augustana to motivate each other to become more interested in ciphers and encryption," said Philippe Nadon, undergraduate student and one of the leading organizers of the challenge. "We're extremely excited to launch this challenge-it's the first time our team has organized something this big."

Every three weeks beginning on February 1, the team will release a new batch of challenges for students to take on, which will also progress an overall story. Completing challenges earns participants points toward real-world prizes, and will be tracked on a leaderboard.

"The challenges themselves describe a scenario where one must decipher an encrypted message to obtain a desired location or object," said Nadon. "It's meant to evoke a feeling of adventure, rewarding challenges, and excitement."

In addition to prizes and bragging rights for the winners, all participants will be gaining something valuable: hands-on, experiential learning with cryptography.

"Participating in extracurricular challenges like this are a unique way for students to distinguish themselves beyond their undergraduate degrees," said Chris Fetterly, director of the Student Innovation Centre. "Cryptography and security are extremely important topics, and this event is structured so even beginners can start exploring these concepts in a fun and engaging way."

Experience with encryption-the technology that secures our communications-provides real value for students. Peter Berg, chair of the Department of Science at Augustana Campus, professor in mathematics and physics explains:

"Encryption pervades many of our activities these days," said Berg. "It is meant to keep us safe from harm, but when it is compromised, it can pose a very serious threat to individuals and whole nations. This field will only become more important, and this is a great opportunity for students to get exposure early in their careers."

Interested in participating in the Cryptography Challenge? Learn more about the story and sign up online. Students can join at any point during the competition-but signing up early will enable participants to take part in more of the challenges.

Looking for ways to get involved at the Student Innovation Centre? Applications are open for the Winter 2020 Idea Fund, a program that supports students working on ideas outside the classroom-and offers cash prizes for winning teams. Learn more and apply before January 30.