The next generation of cybersecurity experts is vying for top honors at an annual global contest created by New York University.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and the Grenoble Institute of Technology in France are the latest to join in the world’s biggest student-run cybersecurity event, called Cyber Security Awareness Week, or CSAW. Finals of the competition will be held at sites around the world the second week of November.

The contest was started by New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering in 2003 just for Tandon students. But it has grown into an international event with hubs in five countries, testing the skills of thousands of young computer experts with the goal of inspiring them to work in the field of protecting data systems.

Tandon Professor Nasir Memon, who initiated CSAW, says there is a growing need for more skilled cybersecurity experts.

“It’s a different world from when we started,” Memon said. “In the past it was just kids playing around. … Now big criminal groups and nation-states are involved. There are more determined adversaries. Where there is big money and national interests involved, the problem gets much more difficult. We still don’t know how to defend against it.”

The purpose of CSAW is to give students the chance to demonstrate their talent, to interact with professionals and to see the value of their skills.

‘Capture the flag’ in cyberspace

In the preliminary online rounds for the 2017 contest, more than 10,000 secondary school and university students formed small teams to compete.

About 400 qualified for the finals, which will take place at various sites: New York University in Brooklyn, NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, the Grenoble Institute of Technology’s INP-Esisar school at Valence and Ben-Gurion University.

The main event of the contest is “Capture the Flag,” in which teams are presented with a series of real-world computer security challenges, earning points, or “flags,” as they solve problems. Only the best teams qualified for the 36-hour-long marathon of the final round. Winners are offered scholarships and other prizes.

Several competitions make up the overall CSAW contest, posing challenges in virtually every aspect of information security, from hardware and software penetration testing and protection to digital forensics and government policy.

In the United States, CSAW is sponsored by a number of major companies and also by U.S. government agencies, including the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. All of them have a big interest in developing cybersecurity talent.

This article was written by freelance writer David Storey.