Former lock picker and hacker to represent New Zealand at global cyber security event

A group of Waikato University computer science students, including a former lock picker and hacker, have won a spot to compete in a global cyber security competition.

The five are off to London in early June after qualifying in the top 15 teams in the world for the Imperial College event.

Waikato University Bachelor of Science third year Ethan McKee-Harris is majoring in computer science but stumbled upon "the real buzz of hacking" early on.

"Years ago some school friends and I started hacking and started exploring some school websites and we found a way into them which gave us access to data that we shouldn't have had. We took it to the school to point it out, and that's what got me started on my journey!"

Fellow team member Callum Riddle's interest in cyber security started in 'physical security'.

"In high school, I started picking locks and then when I got into computing I stayed with the security side of it."

Courtney Wilson, Daniel Shepherd and Stefenie Pickston make up the talented group who've qualified to go to London for the 24-hour event.

"We basically look for these flags hidden in websites and use our ethical hacking skills to try and discover them," said Pickston, who specialises in steganography - where a message is hidden within other non-secret text or data.

Each team member has a unique role in the global competition and McKee-Harris describes it "like a digital game of hide and seek, just with a lot higher stakes".

All are in their third or fourth year at Waikato University, and the group warns we are at risk every day and so many people fail to follow the key steps to avoid being hacked.

Use a password manager to auto-fill passwords you've randomised, go for two-step factor authentication, and install an adblock to prevent clicking on dodgy links.

"If I manage to figure out your password and you have the same password for the rest of your accounts I can pretty easily access all your sensitive information, probably within 10 to 20 minutes," Stefenie Pickston says

If your computer is running slow or your friends recived that invite you didn't send, the chances are hackers are knocking at your digital door.

"Online cyber security in this day and age is pretty much just a constant a game of cat and mouse, every time we make an advance in security the hackers are immediately on top of that trying to find a way to break it," McKee-Harris said.

And that's what these cyber whizzes will be doing when they compete in London next month, except it'll all be legal.