ITEM: Last week in Singapore, Ixia staged its inaugural hacking event, Ixia Cyber Combat. Part hackathon, part eSports, the event challenged 20 two-person teams to put their cyber security skills to the test. For the contestants it’s all about training, bragging rights and a cash prize of S$10,000 (around $7,450). For Ixia, it’s a fun marketing stunt to raise its visibility in the cyber security sector and – ideally – generate some business.
Cyber Combat is a 12-hour session where teams get to attack enemy servers, expose vulnerabilities and win “flags”, but they have to do that whilst simultaneously defending their own “fortress” from the other teams. The event is designed to test skill, strategy and endurance, as well as show cybersecurity pros new tools, techniques and situations.
Cyber Combat is also designed as a game, complete with a leaderboard displaying the latest scores in real time so players can see who’s ahead. Whoever gets the highest aggregate score by the end wins. There’s also a heavy social media angle to the event where participants can tweet their progress or post updates to Facebook and LinkedIn.
Naveen Bhat, managing director for Ixia Asia Pacific, says the event attracted a wide range of participants, from verticals and government agencies to a pair of high school students.
Bhat says the company got the idea for a game-like event via two big trends in the market: video gaming and cybersecurity hackathons.
“We wanted to combine these two together, take away the hackathon geeky element and add the sexy real-time scoring element,” he told Disruptive.Asia. “So you have real-time scoring, increasing levels of complexity and intensity as you progress in the game and the concept of winning. And in between we provide training so people can get to a certain level, and beyond that they have to be trained some more.”
Bhat said that while the event is designed as a real-world scenario, there are some limits to what players can do. “They can’t bring anything in with them, but they can consult with people outside and try and use different techniques. But if they try to bring down the system or hack the scoreboard, they get ejected,” he laughs.
For Ixia, Bhat says, the Cyber Combat event is a vehicle to raise awareness of both cyber security in general and Ixia’s brand in the burgeoning cyber security space – and ideally generate new business. “There are 20 teams, and when they all go home, ideally we’ll have one winner and 19 new customers – that’s a complete win for us.”
Bhat said that Ixia plans to expand the event next year – perhaps a tournament format with smaller events in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand and the finals in Singapore, and then expand it to all of APAC the following year. “That will help us brand ourselves in the cyber security space without overtly marketing a solution or product.
He also says the event gives Ixia’s own security solutions a trial by fire, though he adds the full environment constructed for the event also uses firewalls, orchestration and data analytics products from other companies as well. “As we see the behavior, we also learn, and that will feed back into our product lines and how people operate in these networks.”
Better than trade shows
Bhat also emphasized the importance of the social media marketing aspect of the event. “By integrating it into our social media platforms, everyone’s tweeting about it or talking about it on LinkedIn – we crossed over 250,000 impressions in the first five days.”
That matters because in the future, Bhat insists, social media marketing is going to be a far more effective way of reaching out to prospective customers than, say, renting an expensive booth at trade shows collecting business cards.
“People are not going to come into trade shows to get information or a brochure or whatever,” he said. “Our investment in those areas is going to decline really fast – and so we’re looking for new ways to reach out to customers and influence their minds, and this is a perfect environment to do that. Where else can we get customers completely immersed in our area of technology for a 12-hour period without doing a single PowerPoint presentation or speakers? Everything is advertising itself.”