Capital to host festival for computer hackers

Gary McKinnon hacked the US military. Picture: Getty

Gary McKinnon hacked the US military. Picture: Getty

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CODE-breaking computer hackers are being to urged pit their skills against the best in the Capital as the hunt begins for Edinburgh’s next generation of whizz kids.

Scores of teenage hackers – all aged under 19 – are ­expected to put their self-taught talents to positive use by competing in a contest which will see them tackle a string of real-life scenarios ­relating to crime, public ­transport and weather.

They will be tasked with coding a series of websites, programs and computer applications (apps) that could help solve tricky civic problems such as traffic congestion.

Once computer programs to solve or improve everyday problems have been designed, they will be presented to a panel of judges to scrutinise.

Dubbed the Festival of Code, it is run by charity Young Rewired State with the aim of ­helping young keyboard warriors and gifted ­amateur developers apply their skills in a positive way.

Euan Jackson, 17, from Duddingston, excelled at a previous festival and said there normally aren’t many opportunities in Edinburgh to explore coding. “Last year’s event was a great platform to meet like-minded people and set me up for my future ­career, which I hope will be as a games designer,” he said.

While hacking may conjure up images of espionage, spy networks and internet scams, it often refers to the ­creative process of building the software and apps used every day.

One famous Scottish case of unlawful hacking involved Gary McKinnon – a talented systems administrator with Asperger’s Syndrome – who was accused of breaking into 97 military and Nasa computers in 2002. It is called the “biggest military computer hacks of all time” and saw McKinnon almost extradited to the US to face charges.

Emma Mulqueeny, chief executive of Young Rewired State, said the festival’s aim is to help computer prodigies blossom.

She said: “We want to find and ­foster every child driven to teach themselves to code, [and] connect them to each other, and a community of mentors, to solve real world problems through open data.

“It provides these young people with an environment that emboldens their passion for coding and programming. It gives them a chance to work in partnership with coding peers, learn from the experts and create new digital solutions to problems we all face.”

The festival will be hosted at Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics between July 28 and August 3.

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