Hacking club geared up for hackathon


SF State senior Shane Cota of the Hacking Club runs tests on wireless components on his laptop during their club meeting in the Science Building room 254 on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.

SF State’s Hacking Club ventured from its computer room in the science building on Saturday to attend a hacking workshop and training day in downtown San Francisco presented by Hacking EDU and IBM.

The workshop was hosted by Dev Bootcamp on Folsom Street, a web development bootcamp that works to provide technical and interpersonal skills for students interested in computer science, engineering and web development, according to the Dev Bootcamp website.

The Hacking Club, which is an independently run club not registered with Associated Students, Inc., said approximately 15 of its members attended the workshop, which will aid its members in preparing for the annual Hacking EDU hackathon in February, according to club president Shane Cota.

“It will be great since it will prepare people for the hackathon, and they have things that you just can’t learn at school,” said Cindy Phan, the vice president of the club.

This includes information technology, which isn’t a part of the the computer science curriculum here at SF State, according to Cota.

SF State senior Thomas Tse (right) demonstrates how to pick a padlock to senior Emil Santos during the Hacking Club meeting in the Science Building room 254 on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.
[/media-credit] SF State senior Thomas Tse (right) demonstrates how to pick a padlock to senior Emil Santos during the Hacking Club meeting in the Science Building room 254 on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.

Some of the workshops include coding in web development, iOS, Android, machine learning, IBM technology and hardware hacks, according to the event details from the Hacking EDU Facebook page.

According to Phan, you don’t have to be an experienced hacker, coder or computer scientist to attend the function since the training day will host various different workshops for all different levels of skill.

“There will be workshops for every level from beginner to people already in the industry and you just have to be a student, then it is free to go,” Phan said.

For Cota the most exciting part about participating in the event is the hands-on tech work and the opportunity to network.

“For me, it’s the networking and educational opportunity, and networking is something I enjoy, so hopefully I’ll meet some cool people and make a connection,” Cota said. “I’m also curious to see what they offer in terms of hardware hacking.”

Even though club members are interested in the hardware and methodology of hacking, Cota emphasized that their club does not exist to partake in the nefarious side of hacking, which is commonly associated with hacking, according to Cota.

In fact, the club strives to promote the opposite of hacking- cyber security, or “information security,” as Cota calls it, by providing students with the knowledge of how hacking works in order to learn effective methods of staying “information secure.”

“Our main goal is to provide members with information about cyber security and promote the ethical use of hacking,” Cota said. “There are lots of different aspects to security, but we’re focusing on defense and privacy. With Edward Snowden three years hence, it’s [privacy] still a big deal and it’s important to know how to keep data safe.”

When asked why such a negative correlation with hacking exists, Cota said much of it has to do with media and entertainment industry portrayal.

“A lot of it is from the media or bad movies like ‘Blackhat,’ and the 80s’ film, ‘War Games,’ prompting lawmakers to make laws that crush whistleblowers,” Cota said. “Hacking really is a fun and glamorous blunt way to describe security.”

The club’s aspiration of promoting cyber security and methods in keeping personal data safe is especially relevant to the SF State community after Xpress reported in August about the alleged hacking of student financial and password records.

In terms of defensive strategies that help keep online personal data safe, Cota said that  making sure you have strong password is a good start in being cyber secure.

“Have a robust password and encrypt information,” Cota said. Using ProtonMail is also helpful since it does not “log or keep information of your transactions,” according to Cota.

Associate professor of computer science Arno Pruder also said  having a complex password is an important factor.

“Do not pick a trivial password like ‘123456,’ don’t share or reuse your passwords and don’t write it on post-its and stick it on your monitor. Make sure your antivirus software is updated and don’t click on suspicious links,” Pruder said.

Pruder also suggested that students look at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “computer emergency readiness” page, which offers cyber and email security tips.

However, Pruder said  whatever you put online is at risk for being broken into.

Getting the chance to listen to professionals is advantageous in further aiding club members and students with learning ways of being cyber secure, according to Cota.

“In general, we are bringing in professionals to come and speak to us. We are all students and still learning. And it’s (the workshop) exciting for anybody in computer science to get involved in,” Cota said.