College, High School Students Start 36-Hour Hackathon in Virginia

Hundreds of college students and 50 local high students have come together Friday night in Northern Virginia to hack computer systems non-stop for 36 hours straight.

While it sounds criminal, the hackathon is perfectly legal. InNOVAtion is a coordinated event hosted by Northern Virginia Community College to test cybersecurity.

“We’re actually teaching everyone how do you not get hacked, and how do you not end up on the news?” said cybersecurity student.

The 350 students are from Chicago, Pennsylvania and across the Commonwealth. They'll start hacking away at simulated firewalls set up by cyber companies at 9 p.m. Friday and go through 9 a.m. Sunday.

Learning how to hack is part of their cybersecurity curriculum -- a field that experts say is increasingly important as private companies and government agencies continue to be compromised by large-scale hacks, such as the recent hack that shut down computers at one of the biggest hospital systems in the D.C. area, MedStar Health.

“We don’t teach them how to hack into businesses for negative reasons, we teach them so that they know how to counteract,” Dr. Paula Ford, the associate dean of IT at NVCC, said.

"It’s like a job fair, coding programming event. All in one," said InNOVAtion Hackathon President Thomas Mitchell.

In addition to the hacking competition, cybersecurity experts will speak to high school students about computer science and information technology.

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