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DefCon Recap

A recap of the 15th anniversary of DefCon and Capture the Flag

4:37 PM -- LAS VEGAS -- DefCon 2007 -- This year marks the 15th anniversary of the DefCon conference, which drew more than 7,000 attendees, ranging from teenagers to elite researchers such as the Kenshoto group, which hosted the Capture the Flag (CTF) competition.

Many other groups were represented there, including the "feds," who are looking to bridge the gap between the underground hacking community and law enforcement. (See Feds Turn to Black Hats.) And, as with any bunch, there is always at least one bad apple. (See "NBC Muckraker Gets Hacked at Defcon")

This weekend was exciting for me, too, but in a good way. I had the good fortune to participate on the winning team in the annual DefCon capture the flag competition -- the second time my team has won the event in the two years we've been competing.

The event consists of eight teams battling it out over three days in a room where other conference-goers can watch the action, listen to loud music, and watch the videos and a live scoreboard. Last year's winning team is automatically entered into the competition, along with the top seven teams from the CTF qualifications held in June.

The goal sounds simple: Defend your server while attacking the other teams' servers. But there's nothing simple about the challenges prepared by Kenshoto. This year, the server was running the FreeBSD 6.2 operating system with approximately 20 custom-written services that had to be enumerated and reverse engineered to find the vulnerabilities. It all has to be done in a matter of hours, with no prior knowledge of what the target operating system or services will be.

It was an amazing, yet humbling experience to compete against seven teams that were at the top of 160 teams that participated in CTF qualifications. I learned a tremendous amount, which I will share with you in future blogs.

The most important thing I learned is that to be a successful team -- whether it's a CTF team or a corporate security team -- there has to be trust, confidence, and communication amongst all the members. I'm jumping on a plane now, but I'll fill you in in my next blog.

— John H. Sawyer is a security geek on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. He enjoys taking long war walks on the beach and riding pwnies. When he's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading

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