Mason Students, Grads Claim Top Prizes in TraCCC’s 2023 Anti-Counterfeiting Hackathon


Trading under the team name of CyberCrustaceans, George Mason University students Anthony Perry and Daniel Horvath—both Honors College students—defeated five finalist teams to win the $20,000 top prize at the Bring Down Counterfeiting Hackathon 2023 (BDC 2023). The hackathon, a nationally advertised competition that began in September, brought together individuals and teams to develop technology-based solutions for combating counterfeiting.

hackathon winners
From left, Anthony Perry and Daniel Horvath, aka Team CyberCrustaceans, won the top prize in the Bring Down Counterfeiting Hackathon 2023. Photos by Ayman Rashid/Office of University Branding

BDC 2023 was organized by the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) in partnership with strategy and analytic firm Blue Clarity, which administered the competition. Major sponsors included e-commerce and technology company Inc. and the Global Innovation Policy Center, a department within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce devoted to promoting innovation, creativity, and strong intellectual property protections.

CyberCrustaceans’ $20,000 winning entry, called Veritas Ex Machina, was deemed by a panel of practitioner judges to be a breakthrough combination of X-ray technology, optical scanning, and artificial intelligence designed to sift through enormous volumes of small parcels to detect the likelihood of counterfeit product.

The $10,000 Student Prize, SafeURL, was won by a team of Mason graduate students called Tech Titans who tackled the digital domain of counterfeiting with a system designed to uncover fraudulent websites. By employing sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, they crafted a user-friendly platform that helps users discern the legitimacy of URLs, enhancing online security and trust.

The Tech Titans team, which also took home the $2,500 Crowdsource Prize, included Siva Satyanarayana Raju Pusapati, Sampath Sai Yelleti, Hemanth Kumar Reddy Tiyyagura, Chandra Kiran Viswanath Balusu, Anusha Bhavanam, and Poojasree Keerithipati.

The $10,000 CINA prize for research, sponsored by Mason’s Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis Center (CINA), went to Mason students Salem Abdul-Bak and Krishna Purohit (also an Honors College student) and for the Legitima project, which bridges technology with policy. The program uses serialized tokens and a Chrome extension that functions as a digital passport for products, enhancing consumer trust and enabling verification of authenticity. In addition to $10,000, the students receive a semester of mentoring by CINA experts and the opportunity to present their project to a wider audience. 

Three other teams with promising concepts won honorable mention prizes worth $1,000 each, bringing the total prize money to $45,500.

Support and prize money came from a variety of organizations including Amazon, Statista, Mapbox, the National Crime Prevention Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center, and the International Coalition Against Illicit Economies.

Louise Shelley wearing a teal t-shirt and with eyeglasses atop her head speaks to Patrick Kilbride who is wearing a gray jacket.
TraCCC founding director Louise Shelley converses with Patrick Kilbride, senior vice president of the Global Innovation Policy Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Hackathon With Purpose

This is the second Hackathon TraCCC has hosted. The competition featured some 80 contestants—faculty and students from many different universities—registering as teams or individuals and working for more than two months to perfect their ideas. Six competitors making the finals were non-Mason.

The competition has two goals: Bringing attention to the serious harms caused by counterfeiting, and encouraging students and others to develop solutions using technology and policy to address the problem. 

Counterfeiting is a global problem: The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that pirated and counterfeit products make up 2.5 percent of world trade or roughly $464 billion a year. Many if not most of those counterfeit goods present a danger to the public. As an example, during the COVID-19 crisis, TraCCC researchers were able to prevent 67 million counterfeit masks for frontline workers from entering the U.S. market.

“We need the data to show how this problem operates so we can begin to address it,” said TraCCC founding director Louise Shelley of the Hackathon. “And working together, we need public, private, and research partnerships to begin to solve it.”

She added that an additional—and unexpected— benefit of the exercise is to involve technology-oriented students who discover an affinity for policy. She said the participants praised Mason and appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Six finalist teams presented their solutions at Mason Square in Arlington, Virginia, on November 4 during Hackathon Demo Day, defending them under questioning from a panel of judges that included leading practitioners from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Customs and Border Patrol, and Amazon. While the judges deliberated, a series of notable speakers, including Summer Kostelnik, policy advisor from the White House Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement, offered their views on trends in counterfeiting and what needs to be done to counter them.

Hackathon 3 will be announced later in 2024.