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A team of students from the Sol Plaatje University (SPU) Department of Computer Science and Information Technology has won first prize in the 2022 ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon, taking home a cash prize of R20 000. Two teams from SPU attended the hackathon, with the other team coming in fourth.

A hackathon is an event where people such as programmers, designers and others come together to solve real-life problems with technology. For the annual ITWeb Security Summit Hackathon, 60 hackers from around the country come together to build solutions that boost computer security and protect technology users.

“The SPU teams were comprised mostly of first-and second-year students, and we brought in three Computer Science honours students to improve the technical competencies of the teams,” said SPU CSIT Lecturer and hackathon mentor Mrs Eva Mamabolo.

Five members made up the winning team, “Hacker Agents”: Freddie Manyate (Second Year ICT), Lebohang Ziane (Second Year ICT), Melvin Kisten (Honours Computer Science), Dimpho Maboee (Third Year Computer Science), and Lusanda Sibiya (First Year ICT). The prize money will be shared among the team members.

“The students investigated vaccination certificate fraud, focussing on the vaccination SMS notification, which an individual can share with someone else who can then ‘prove’ they were vaccinated even if they were not,” Mrs Mamabolo said.

The team’s research established that vaccination fraud happening through the SMS is faster and seems reliable since one cannot distinguish between real and fake. “The proposed solution was a digital signature that will be linked to the vaccination SMS,” explained SPU CSIT Lecturer and fellow team mentor Dr Silas Verkijika. “A signature confirms that the information originated from the signer and has not been altered. After a message has been signed it cannot be modified without being detected. It cannot be forged, and thus can prove who signed or sent the message.”

The mentors explain that students had to attend an ideation session on cybersecurity and thereafter formulate an idea. “For this hackathon only two teams managed to formulate a problem that they can solve having security measures in mind, so these teams were considered. Other worthy students were unable to go due to the limited number of students we could take to the hackathon,” Mrs Mamabolo said. “The number we can take is dependent on financial support, and with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDaT) as the only sponsor of student hackathons the opportunities for students are limited.”

The teams were mentored by Mrs Mamabolo and Dr Verkijika. The mentors assist students with idea formulation, research on how to quantify the problem, and finding solutions to the problem. “They also guide students on how to structure their presentation based on the judging criteria and prepare students for the presentation, which has to be seamless,” Dr Verkijika said.

SPU congratulates our winning teams and wishes them continued success on their chosen academic and career paths!