Hackers aren’t all bad, even if they learned their skills by doing questionable things – and on Tuesday, several dozen Israeli hackers had the opportunity to use their talents for good by taking the Cyber Readiness Challenge, sponsored by Internet security company Symantec, along with Israeli systems integrator Bynet Data Technologies. To the winner, 24 year old Elad Eyni, went the spoils – a ticket to Symantec headquarters in the U.S., where he will have an opportunity to talk to and work with top Symantec security personnel at the company’s headquarters in the U.S., all expenses paid.

But it wasn’t just Eyni who was the winner; just by getting into the contest, hackers already garnered the attention of cyber-tech professionals inside Symantec, and even at the event, participants said that they had received job offers from cyber-tech companies.

That is what happened to Avi Wolicki, at 17 the youngest hacker participating in the event, which was held during the Cybertech 2014 event Tuesday. “I got several job offers from several start-ups, plus an internship from Symantec,” the Beit Shemesh native said. Reaching as high as seventh place at one point, Wolicki finished the contest in 16th place, a very respectable position in a contest that required not just knowledge, but speed and a clever, innovative approach to hacking.

The hackers had four hours to break into a Windows server in the UK and get hold of a shared folder, either “the easy way or the hard way,” said Tal Portnoy, a top security expert at Symantec Israel. “We set up the system in a way that would let us examine the skills of the hackers as they progressed through 40 milestones they needed to get to the folder.”

The Challenge was similar to others Symantec has run in many other countries, with hackers needing to get through 40 milestones in order to reach the folder. Even the “easy way,” which requires just a few programming steps (but was not the solution the judges were looking for), by manipulating some code and opening and redirecting data between various ports on the sever, wasn’t so easy. “Over the past year or so that we have been running the contest, only one hacker, from Russia, managed to get through all 40 milestones.” The top Israeli hackers at Tuesday’s challenge were able to do between 25 and 30, he said.

Worming their way through the server to reach their goal, the top 4 or 5 hackers scored very closely together – but it was Eyni who won. Eyni, who goes by the hacker handle “Lightning,” works for a Petach Tikvah-based company called Jetro Platforms, which provides remote desktop production. “The contest was easy in some parts, but hard in others,” he said. “I am lucky that I have had a lot of experience with these kinds of systems, which gave me insight into these systems. Eyni did not specify what kind of experience he was talking about. The Challenge was the first contest he participated in, Eyni said. “I am pretty sure it won’t be the last.”

Avi Wolicki (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Avi Wolicki (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Wolicki was a bit more forthcoming on his experience; he’d gotten into a couple of spots of trouble for previous activities, but he quickly learned that his skills were worth money. “I started a company that does penetration testing, to see how good their defenses are, and I have several clients,” he said. “This was my first hacking contest, and at times I felt I didn’t have a chance against all these contenders,” many of whom were in cyber-units in the IDF, along with some professional penetration testers (the oldest hacker was 50).

Wolicki said he got into hacking when he was “a kid,” about four or five years ago. “I started programming for the fun of it, but I realized that hacking was much more interesting,” letting him visit places that he left unspecified.

And the old stereotype of the “unpopular geek” retreating into the cyber-world no longer applies, said Wolicki. Today, as the the news about what hackers are capable of spreads, those with the skills to break into systems and manipulate data become very popular. “Not that I wasn’t popular anyway, but around report card time, I find that I have a lot more friends than I realized,” said Wolicki.