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CanHack’s impact: Inspiring Canada’s next generation of cybersecurity experts


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CanHack’s impact: Inspiring Canada’s next generation of cybersecurity experts

Cybersecurity competition for high school studentsIn 2018, we teamed up with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) to foster the next generation of cybersecurity experts by launching CanHack. A competition for high school students, we’ve created meaningful learning opportunities for students across Canada looking to sink their teeth into cybersecurity. 

Throughout the cybersecurity challenge, students get the chance to tackle real cybersecurity challenges, learn critical computer security skills, work with experts in the field, explore an in-demand field and win cash prizes. 

As we all know, cybersecurity matters more now than ever before. We leaned on technology to keep us going through the pandemic – both personally and for business – and have become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks as a result.

Ensuring a cybersafe future is crucial, and it starts with investing in a future workforce that understands the fundamentals of cybersecurity and privacy.

Young Black students coding - cybersecurity competition for high school students

Together, the DMZ and RBC have ignited an interest in cybersecurity for high school students across Canada at a critical stage in their education. We’re committed to helping students dive deeper into the world of cybersecurity to empower the future of the cybersecurity workforce. 

To mark our fourth CanHack competition, we decided to take a walk down memory lane to highlight CanHack’s achievements to date.

CanHack’s impact over the years 

Since its launch 5 years ago, CanHack has already:Supported 6,156 high school students that have made up 1,567 teams from 400+ highschools and community organizations. Administered 24 workshops with inspiring cybersecurity leaders for students to get hands-on training and support. Supported 1,016 women-identifying participants, empowering them to lead the way in tech. Given out over $31,000 in prize money to Canadian students and schools
Thanks to RBC’s committed support, CanHack plans to reach even more students this year, helping them to dive deeper into the world of cybersecurity. Registrations for CanHack 2022 have officially launched and the competition will run from March 15th to March 29th.

For high school students looking to gain knowledge in cybersecurity and computer science and explore the career possibilities in the growing sectors, click here for more information and register today!

How digital badging gives young professionals a competitive edge

Jumpstarting students’ career paths in cybersecurity with CanHack digital badges

It’s not too late for high school students to register for CanHack 2021 and compete for up to $16,250 in prizes! Learn more

As the years pas
s in a student’s journey through education, they will tackle many great accomplishments: from academic achievements, participation in extracurriculars, competitions, volunteer and community work, involvement in student associations, and so on. Previously, certificates, diplomas, badges and trophies have typically represented tokens of these achievements.

Now, with the global workforce becoming increasingly digital, students need a new way to display these accomplishments. Furthermore, COVID-19 has forced education institutions to rapidly shift to online learning, meaning physical certificates often can’t be provided to add to student portfolios. How do these accomplishments get recognized? 

There’s a better way for students to present these achievements: digital badging.

What is digital badging?

Simply put, digital badging, also known as digital credentials and micro credentials, is a validated online certification of a specific accomplishment or skill. Digital badging provides learners with a bite-sized approach to education, and focuses on the development of a specific skill. When a learner completes a new course or gains a new skill, they receive a digital badge as recognition for their achievement. Unlike physical certificates, badges are designed to be optimized for sharing on social media and professional networks like LinkedIn to help individuals find a job or earn an internal promotion. When an employer or recruiter sees that a potential job candidate has digital badges listed on their LinkedIn profile, it’s a quick and secure way for the employer to understand the certifications and skills the candidate has.

Digital badge benefits: The learner

It is clear that lifelong learning has become an imperative for young professionals to break into today’s rapidly changing workforce. Up-skilling and re-skilling allows professionals (of all ages) to remain relevant and up to speed on the latest trends.  Digital badges helps learners:

  • Become motivated to grow their careers by learning new skills outside of what they have been taught in school.
  • Finesse their own personal brand image and improve their competitiveness in the job market by highlighting badges on social media platforms like LinkedIn.
  • Showcase their soft skills and bridge any skills gap that may exist between academic achievements and job requirements.
  • Demonstrate to future employers their eagerness and ability to acquire new skills.

CanHack introduces digital badging

At the DMZ, we believe it is crucial to empower Canada’s next generation of innovators and provide them with the necessary skill sets to thrive. As the skills gap in cybersecurity widens, we hope to promote cyber literacy while getting students excited about a potential career in the space. We will provide every participant a digital badge, marking their official participation in the third annual CanHack challenge (bragging rights included)! CanHack participants will be able to send a signal of great success to post secondary institutions and future employers, as CanHack’s digital badge will give them a competitive edge. All CanHack badges are endorsed by cybersecurity leaders, Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security and Privacy Institute and RBC, helping students to stand out!

About CanHack

The DMZ at Toronto Metropolitan University, in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada, have come together to launch CanHack – a cybersecurity student competition to promote cyber literacy and to also address digital skills gaps in the labour market. Participants will learn critical computer security skills, work with experts in the field and have an opportunity to win up to $16,250 in cash prizes for both themselves and the school they attend! CanHack leverages an online open-source computer security platform established by the Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security & Privacy Institute called PicoCTF. This game-based learning experience creates an interactive and engaging experience where students are tasked with addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by Canadian financial institutions.
Want to learn more about the CanHack challenge and how you can participate? Check out our CanHack page for more information! 

CanHack: Why young innovators should consider a future in cybersecurity

COVID-19 and the talent shortage in cybersecurity skills

If changes in technology, growing risks of data overload, and increased usage of Cloud platforms have not already overwhelmed organizations’ IT and cybersecurity teams, they certainly will now. 

COVID-19 has forced a large portion of Canadian employers, from government departments to private sector companies, to make a sudden switch to a remote working model (and for some, a permanent switch). The transition to operating in a remote format has brought about new implications for how organizations will maintain cyber safety since employees are now working in absence of companies’ usual security measures (firewalls, safe IT systems, etc.)

Furthermore, it has highlighted the greater need for more cybersecurity skills in the workforce. Talent shortages have long existed in the cybersecurity landscape, and we can only expect these skills gaps to widen even further as the new reality of remote working sets in. 

CanHack 2019
Our solution: CanHack

At the DMZ, it’s our job to not only help startup founders accelerate their business growth but to also empower Canada’s next generation of innovators who aspire to make a real difference. We develop and execute initiatives like CanHack, our student cybersecurity competition organized in partnership with RBC, to promote cyber literacy and to also address digital skills gaps in the labour market.

DMZ is launching CanHack for a third year. Thanks to continued support from RBC, the program will continue to redefine how secondary education engages with cybersecurity skills and will introduce a brand new cohort of high school students to the challenge. As both partners leverage their strengths to break new ground together, the overarching goal will be to encourage more students to think about pursuing a future career in cybersecurity and computer science. This year, instead of the fall of 2020, the program will begin in Spring 2021 to give teachers more time to onboard their students. (continue reading for more details regarding the new 2021 program date).

How CanHack works

CanHack leverages PicoCTF technology, an online open-source computer security platform established by the Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security & Privacy Institute. This game-based learning experience creates an interactive and engaging experience where students are tasked with addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by Canadian financial institutions.

The competition and program format allow young innovators to be immersed in a fun and stimulating environment where they gain critical computer security skills, work with experts in the cyber field and compete for cash prizes. Best of all? The program is completely virtual and no prior experience in cybersecurity is required to participate. 

CanHack’s accomplishments to date

Since launching in 2018, CanHack has already:

  • Helped over 4000 high school student participants gain valuable knowledge and experience in cybersecurity
  • Worked with 91 schools in 2019, and 76 schools in 2018
  • Distributed $6500 in competition cash prizes to students and $9500 to schools to help integrate more technology into student lives

CanHack 2019 winners of cybersecurity skills competition
What’s to come? CanHack 2021

As partners, DMZ and RBC have forged a number of firsts in the Toronto tech community over the course of this relationship. CanHack 2021 will be a natural next step for this partnership in empowering a stronger, more vibrant cybersecurity landscape within Canada.

“Cybersecurity has become a major and critical element for all organizations with the acceleration of cybercrime, and the evolving threat landscape.  Expansion of digital services driven by the challenges of COVID-19 and need for the mass enablement of a secure remote workforce, cyber skills have become a key resource to nurture and invest in,” said Matthew Tim, VP Cyber Technology Office at RBC. “By partnering with DMZ and sponsoring initiatives like CanHack, RBC is investing in the future of cybersecurity by encouraging greater participation and interest from the young adults in high schools across Canada. We would like to promote greater involvement and interest in cyber as a career to narrow the skills gap.”

In an effort to increase program accessibility Canada-wide (and plan around COVID-19), we’re taking CanHack virtual this year with all workshops and sessions available online for students and teachers to engage with. In coordination with proper health and safety guidelines, we anticipate running in-person and virtual info sessions and workshops in Fall 2020. The CanHack Challenge Launch Event for PicoCTF will then take place in March 2021.

Besides offering programming to students coast to coast, CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run female-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support females in STEAM and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.

Hear from CanHack participants

A student’s perspective

“CanHack 2019 was very enjoyable for me. I got to learn more about cybersecurity and the different specializations within it, and technology in general. The competition gave me a good chance to compete with my friends and it was actually fun to play the game, see the campus of Ryerson as well as the downtown area. During the cyber expo day, I learned a lot about other people’s experiences and why each company was partnered with the event. I learned that as companies move into a more digital world, they need a good cybersecurity foundation, especially since there is more and more criminal activity around the cybersecurity field. I also listened to a 16-year-old entrepreneur and how she is using technology to change the world. Overall, CanHack was a great program to play in and I hope they can continue to do what they do in the future!”

– High school student from Middlefield Collegiate Institute

An educator’s perspective

“For the last two years, Clarkson Secondary School has taken advantage of the amazing opportunity provided by the Ryerson DMZ and RBC to learn about computer securities. This program has become a mandatory component of the computer science courses for students in grades 10 and 11. Prior to taking part in this event, students in my classes would have had very minimal exposure to cybersecurity or even a linux shell; now students get a full two weeks where they are exposed to this content. There is no way that I would have been able to create anything close to the PicoCTF competition on my own, and it is only through the partnership with the Ryerson DMZ and RBC that Clarkson Secondary School students get this experience.

CanHack allows students to develop a set of skills that goes behind technical know-how: teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills. Additionally, students have become significantly more aware of the impact that cybersecurity has on their daily lives. While the obvious benefit is to students who will study computer science and computer engineering once they leave high school, even students who will major in social sciences are now looking at laws and ethics around computer technology and cybersecurity. I want to personally thank the Ryerson DMZ, RBC, and their sponsors for allowing the students at Clarkson Secondary School to take part in this event over the last two years. Students now come into my classes asking when the competition will start every September.”

– Matthew Arduini, Curriculum Head – Mathematics, Computer Science, and Business, Clarkson Secondary School

CanHack 2019 helping youth get cybersecurity skills
With RBC’s diverse support and DMZ’s relevant programming, combined with the growing demand to bolster digital literacy in cybersecurity among Canadian youth, CanHack 2021 will be positioned to be a top challenge in Canada.

For high school educators across Canada who are interested in bringing more cybersecurity education and opportunities for students into their schools, you can learn more about the format of the program by reaching out to us at

For high school students looking to gain knowledge and experience in the areas of cybersecurity and computer science, stay tuned for more information on CanHack 2021!

How to boost your company’s cybersecurity on a tight budget

There’s no doubt that the Internet has changed the way people access and share information. It plays a pivotal role in how companies operate their business, even though the risks associated with living in an increasingly connected world continue to grow.

So far 2017 has seen an unusually high number of cybersecurity disasters. They include large-scale hacks that have targeted some of today’s biggest firms, such as Equifax, Verizon and PlayStation. According to a recent report, businesses dealt with an average of 4,000 ransomware attacks every day in 2016, marking a 300 per cent increase from the previous year.

For entrepreneurs — especially startups on a tight budget — it may seem like keeping an online business safe is almost impossible. But there are tools available that can help. Here’s a list of some of the most affordable software on the market.

RansomFree Cybereason (Free)

Ransomware attacks are increasing at an alarming rate. The malicious software program works by holding a businesses’ data hostage until a ransom is paid and has crippled businesses around the world.

RansomeFree is a free software specifically designed to protect against ransomware attacks. If you’re on a budget and don’t have the funds to pay for cybersecurity this could help. The free tool prevents ransomware attacks before they have a chance to infect computers and can work in tandem with other anti-virus software.

Bitdefender (starting at $29.99)

Bitdefender offers cybersecurity protection for both personal and business devices. If you’re an entrepreneur looking for full protection at reasonable prices, then Bitdefender can help.

Its technology detects persistent malware threats and prevents ransomware encryption. The software is also compatible with Windows, Mac OS, iOS and Android devices. Go online here to find out what type of program best suits your needs.

Malwarebytes (starting at $51.99 per year)

Business owners, rejoice! The award-winning Malwarebytes is a great solution for companies that depend on a variety of devices. It’s software is compatible with PC, Android and Mac products.

Aside from its advanced anti-malware technology, the software also detects and prevents ransomware attacks using machine learning. It’s round-the-clock care also protects against unwanted surveillance. Business can test out its service via a free 30-day trial.

Avast Business Antivirus Pro (starting at $58.99 per year)

Avast is an all-in-one solution that protects your business, intellectual property and customer data. It monitors outgoing and incoming mail to ensure malware isn’t lurking in hidden attachments and includes a secure VPN to make it harder for hackers to steal sensitive information.

Its standout features, CyberCapture, recognizes and intercepts suspicious downloads. Any potentially dangerous files are shared with Avast labs experts to identify before they can cause damage.

What the Equifax hack can teach startups about cybersecurity

On Sept. 5 credit reporting service Equifax revealed that criminals had hacked and accessed personal data for approximately 143 million of its customers.

The attack may not be one of the biggest breaches in history but could be one of the most dangerous. The hack exposed highly sensitive personal information — social insurance numbers, credit card details, and addresses — for anyone that used its services from May to July 2017. The hack also affected 100,000 Canadians and included  “limited personal information” for customers in the U.K. and Argentina.

Aside from the much-publicized toll the attack took on the company’s reputation, the exposure also hit its bottom line. Equifax stock dropped eight per cent almost overnight. Meanwhile, its downward stock trajectory isn’t likely to stop anytime soon considering three company executives are being investigated for insider trading.

As of right now, things don’t look great for the 118-year-old company. However, it’s not all bad. The incident serves as a reminder of what not to do when it comes to cybersecurity.

“It’s all part of running an online business,” says Shane Murphy – cofounder of Law Scout, a Toronto-based law startup — about potential breaches. “You can’t always avoid hacks so you need a strong privacy policy within your company.”

There are no shortcuts when it comes to cybersecurity plans. However there are some tricks companies can implement to limit exposure, he explains. Here are a few things entrepreneurs can start doing today.  

Create an all-encompassing privacy policy

It’s in every business’ best interest to have their own cyber policy. It should include: What to do immediately after the information is accessed, 2) How to share that information with the public and 3) Evaluate its legal options.

Being upfront with customers about what could happen after a hack can help mitigate future lawsuits.

Privacy policies should always anticipate a hack. They’re the best defense and show that [a company] has taken serious and reasonable precautions to prevent a breach,” Murphy explains. “It should be on your website and disclose what type of information you’re collecting, how you’re using it and then a step beyond that how you’re storing that and how users will be notified in the event of a breach.”

Train your employees to recognize fraud

There’s no technological replacement or solution that trumps common sense. Phishing scams try to trick employees into sharing sensitive information. However, they can be stopped with the right type of employee training.

Phishing attacks work by installing malicious software or disguising an attacker’s identity so it mimics a trusted source. Both large institutions and small businesses have fallen victim to these sophisticated (and sometimes not-so sophisticated) schemes over the years.

One easy way to avoid them is to provide employees with the skills they need to spot fraudulent communication in their tracks. Some tips include not opening emails from unknown sources and using only secure websites that feature ‘https’ or display a ‘padlock’ icon. Last, but not least, avoid digital communication that features time-sensitive or urgent requests for wire transfers.

Better understand the services you’re using

Providing the best cyber security means continuously updating what partner companies and services you rely on. Vetting the providers your company uses is paramount since nowadays breaches come from all sources.

For instance, many companies rely on cloud computing services to store complex data. These services are usually provided through third-parties that follow their own security protocols.

Startups should always analyze their partners’ privacy policies. If necessary press for better security protocols, especially if your businesses deals with sensitive information. “If your business is going to be collecting that type of sensitive  information you’re going to be held to a higher standard,” says Murphy.