Hacking contest seeks to attract women to information security

A security conference in Seoul hosted a hacking event only for women to spur interest in the field

Computer security conferences tend to be male-dominated affairs. It's not that women aren't present, but just not anywhere near their normal proportional representation in society.

To address the disparity, the Power of Community (POC2012) security conference in Seoul held the final round of a hacking contest on Thursday appropriately called the "Power of XX," a women-only skills battle intended to spur interest in the field and also at a level that wasn't overwhelming.

The competition, also sponsored by the Sookmyung Information Security Study, a club that is part of the computer science department at Sookmyung Women's University's engineering school in Seoul, started with 48 teams. Eight teams made the final round, and they worked throughout the day to solve challenges in areas such as web application attacks, programming, system hacking and cryptography.

The challenges were designed with novices in mind, as usual hacking contests tend to be designed for people that are very active in information security rather than students who are studying general computer science.

The five-member teams, with names such as "Power of MachoGirl" and "Power of Layer23," were laser-focused on their tasks, with perhaps an unhealthy number of snack-food wrappers and plastic soda bottles littering tables. A sign written in Korean with large red letters warned that men were not allowed in the competition area.

There's a perception that women aren't necessarily as good as men when it comes to computer skills, said a 32-year-old male organizer of the contest who goes by the nickname "Monggi." He only knows five women who are in his computer science classes.

The hacking competition changed his perception. "We didn't expect they were very good," Monggi said. "We figured out they are very good."

Su-hee Kang, also a computer science major, said that she has been told by other people that if she were their son or daughter, they would have discouraged her from studying computers. "It's very hard for women," she said.

Another male organizer, Jeong-hoon Shin, said there are distinct difference between how men and woman approach computer science problems. Women, he said, are more detail oriented, work slower and ponder problems, while men tend to rush with less thought -- and perhaps less success.

Jeong-jinn Kang, a woman studying computer science, said, "The most important things are patience, endurance and taking on new challenges."

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

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