At the start of October this year, several students including myself, from the 5th Year Computer Science Class, had the amazing opportunity to attend the Dreamspace event organized by Microsoft Ireland. The event was held on Microsoft Ireland’s absolutely stunning campus in Leopardstown Business Park, Dublin. The event lasted for two days from the 13th to the 14th and we all had a blast.
We all met up as a group with Ms McDonald at school on Friday morning. Our bus trip took an hour to get us to the Microsoft campus. We were greeted by a staff member and were welcomed into the building. They seated us in one of their seating areas that was creatively designed to include lots of aspects of the Microsoft company. There were Minecraft blocks along the sides of the seating area which were used as tables. The room just stuck out as a burst of colour and made us feel welcome as students. There was already another school from Lucan that was present in the seating area and they ended up participating in the activities with us for the day. We put our bags away in some lockers and were given delicious Chocolate chip muffins to eat as they summarized what we would be doing for the day.
We were introduced to the key topic of this year’s Dreamspace event, which was Cyber Security. They gave us a small insight into the topic and gave us some explanations into some of the categories of cyber security such as phishing and confidentiality. The enthusiastic instructor gave a really good illustration of the subject and we were then handed laptops.
We were then split into teams as we would be competing against each other in what is known as a CTF ( Capture the Flag ) contest. The CTFs were run by ZeroDays, which hosted CTF challenges all around Ireland so that teams could go against each other in various cyber security challenges. Our school split up into 4 teams of 2s and 3s. We would have to use our newfound knowledge in cybersecurity to look at prompts given to us by the Zerodays website. We would try to figure out the answers from the prompts by all means at our disposal. Even with the assistance of our trusty friend Google, it still gave us a run for our money!
It was an intense battle for our first round of CTFs. Our school ended up having a group consisting of Eimante, Siobhan, and Karina, finish in 3rd place out of the 25 teams there which was very impressive! Idres and I formed another team and came 9th as we were struggling to get a grasp of the tasks at hand and were definitely overthinking the questions. After this first round, we were given a break from the competitive atmosphere in the room and were led around the campus building. We got to see the fabulous architecture inside and it was so astonishing to see it in person. We got to see the working spaces of the people who worked there day to day. They even have countless options to choose from when it comes to food, they have around 9 little restaurants that house their own selections of different foods for the employees. The employees could just eat whatever their palette fancied that day, lucky them! We were led onto the roof as well and got to see the amazing view from on top of the building overlooking the Leopardstown horse racing track.
After we finished up with our viewing of the building we were led back downstairs and continued with our CTF battle. The girl’s team from our school secured 1st place in round 2 and Idres and I came in 5th place. We were starting to become more accustomed to the question styles and understanding the mindset of hackers. After another CTF brawl to finish off the day, we were finally done. The Microsoft staff kindly supplied us with personal pizzas made in their own canteens. These were most delicious and a perfect end to our day! Us Boyne students deserved a good feast after our hard day’s work.
The next day, we met as a class again outside the school once more and set off again to the Microsoft campus. The moment we got there we could see the parade of school buses lined up to let their students in. Once we went inside, we could see that it was packed. Schools from all over the country had seemed to have come to participate. We were given a short introduction to what we would be doing by the ZeroDays committee. We organized our equipment and the laptops we would be using for this fierce tournament. It was like the CTFs we had done the previous day, just more difficult and with more questions to answer. Our school set off on our mission to score as high as possible. They also had activities in the CTF that included Minecraft challenges, Mario Kart, and an escape room. We didn’t manage our time as well as we should’ve and missed our entry time for the escape room which was unfortunate. Steven and Katie performed really well in Mario Kart and dominated in their group against other schools. Their skills on the track really shined! Daniel, Kieran, and Dragos were able to swiftly solve the lockpicking challenge and earn some points for their team. Eimante, Siobhan, and Karina were very quick at solving the main hacking questions but also participated in a treasure hunt around the building which helped them add points to their team score. Idres and I had the highest points out of all the Boyne groups. We spent all our time doing some hacking on all of the prompts the competition gave us to earn ourselves a good point rating. After many hours of problem solving, hacking, riddles, and profound thinking the competition ended.
The results were released and we would be able to see how we had all done as teams on the big scoreboard. We checked for our team names out of the hundred or more team names listed. Idres and I were able to make it into the top 20, the girls made it into the top 30, Steven and Katie made it top 40 and so did Kieran, Daniel, and Dragos! I think we all did a fantastic job and it was a really good learning experience for us all because it was the first time we had participated in such an event. It was an amazing opportunity to attend and we all had so much fun together!
By Aidan Keane and Eimante Gradeckaite.
5th Year Computer Science.