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Data Center and Critical Infrastructure

Champion Hackers

01 August 2017

It’s a stat to be proud of: Carnegie Mellon’s hacking team has won its fourth “World Series of Hacking” at the Def Con 25 conference in Las Vegas, making it the team with the most wins in the 21-year history of the international competition.

"The skills and deep knowledge required to win these contests mimic those needed by governments and businesses alike to anticipate and prevent cyberattacks," said team faculty adviser David Brumley, director of Carnegie Mellon's CyLab.

Fifteen teams from over 10 countries competed in this year’s contest. To be included, teams had to make their way through a series of qualifying competitions held over the past year. CMU’s team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning, was granted access for being last year’s champions. (For the uninitiated, “pwning” is a corruption of “owning,” which according to Urban Dictionary got its origins from an unintentional misspelling in the online game Warcraft. It essentially refers to the idea of “owning” an opponent.)

The setup of the competition, which spans the course of three days, is a digital version of “Capture the Flag.” Teams attempt to break into competitors’ servers, while also protecting their own; with each successful break-in, a team can capture virtual “flags” to earn points.

"More now than ever, the skills used in this competition are becoming more relevant because cybersecurity is impacting all of our lives," said team captain Tim Becker, a fourth-year computer science student. "It's important that people have a place like this to hone their skills. The more we practice, the better prepared we'll be in the real world in dealing with actual cyberattacks."

Becker, who is working toward a career in cybersecurity, got his start four years ago on an online capture-the-flag competition supported by CyLab and geared to middle- and high-school students.

CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, established in 2003, is a university-wide initiative that involves more than 50 faculty and 100 graduate students from more than six different departments and schools.

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