By Elizabeth Howell

While computer science is a common field of expertise in Ottawa, finding cybersecurity experts remains difficult.

To address the gap, Carleton University sponsored the first annual iHack Conference on June 10 and 11, drawing close to 300 participants with presentations on security and hacking and an on-site “hackfest” where students could practise and compete.

Of the top 10 teams on the hackfest’s final leader board, four were from Ottawa (and included Carleton students), and two each were from Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Montreal.

“We’re interested in making Ottawa a powerhouse in Canada when it comes down to cybersecurity education and skills,” said Tony Bailetti, director of Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) master’s program and principal investigator of the Global Cybersecurity Resource.

More females need to be recruited since the field remains male-dominated, said Bailetti, and organizers are making efforts ensure the conference is female-friendly.

Topics covered included artificial intelligence and reverse engineering to increase security. There was ample practice time, where participants had the opportunity to “learn by breaking things” on live machines and “eavesdrop” on electronic devices to see if they were compromised.

Major organizers of the conference included DEF CON 613, a collective of technology and security enthusiasts, and Hackfest, organizers of the largest annual hacking event in Canada. Carleton’s sponsorship was enhanced through collaboration with the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards (ICBY), where Invest Ottawa is located.

Carleton’s Global Cybersecurity Resource Program – which received $3 million from the province in 2016 – is the second-largest tenant in ICBY, with 52 people working in its space. After conversations with Red Canari, which is co-located at Bayview, both Carleton and Red Canari became sponsors of the conference, together with Trend Micro, Emenda, TwelveDot, C3SA and SecAdvise.

Tony Kanjirappally, a managing partner at Red Canari, said iHack was a perfect opportunity for recruiting cybersecurity professionals.

There’s a huge demand for cybersecurity professionals worldwide, with at least one million jobs outstanding, he said, which is why iHack will be held again next year. In addition, smaller-scale workshops will take place in Ottawa throughout the year to help attract more young professionals and students to cybersecurity.

“An encouraging feature of the first iHack Ottawa was the massive popularity of the Learn to Hack workshop conducted by Ottawa corporation SecAdvise,” said Kanjirappally. “We are working to lower the barriers of entry into the field of cybersecurity.”

The iHack Ottawa event at ICBY was delivered at the same time as sister events in Montreal, Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Toronto and Cali, Colombia.

Major speakers at the Ottawa conference included Robin Grosset, chief architect of IBM’s Watson; Ben Gardiner, principal security engineer at Irdeto; Jean-Marc Le Blanc, senior security researcher; and Tanya Janca, (Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Ottawa.

In 2018, the iHack organizers plan to hold the event in conjunction with events in 10 Canadian cities and 5 cities in other countries. They also plan to triple the number of women who actively participate.

“We’re aiming for an annual conference in Ottawa with at least five times more attendees than we saw at this year’s iHack,” Mr. Kanjirappally said, adding that “what’s important is that we continue to culture, mentor and develop the next generation of cybersecurity experts.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in
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