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6/4/2010
01:47 PM
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Defcon To Host 'Capture The Flag' Social Engineering Contest

No unethical activities or 'damage' to targeted companies or people allowed

In a twist to the popular "capture the flag" game played by hacking teams every year at Defcon, the hacker conference is hosting a contest that aims to test participants' social engineering skills -- without anyone getting hurt.

The Social Engineering CTF will provide contestants beforehand with the name and URL of their "target" company, and they then must gather any information they can online or via other passive data-gathering methods (no phone calls, email, or direct contact with the targeted firms). They score points for the reconnaissance information gathered as well as for the plan of attack, all of which must be submitted one week prior to Defcon in a dossier format.

Each contestant gets a 20-minute window to perform the attack live at Defcon -- in a phone call to the targeted firm -- plus five minutes to explain to attendees their technique and strategy. They score points based on the designated "flags" they capture and the information they gather from the target.

Hacking contests are all the rage at Defcon every year, and social engineering has been among the games in past years. This year's contest is different in that there are specific ground rules -- participants must legally socially engineer their way into the company, and they are not allowed to get credit card numbers, social security numbers, passwords, involve porn, or make the target feel "at risk." They can't use government agencies, law enforcement, or legal entities as a ruse to get inside, nor can they contact relatives or family of the targeted firm's employees.

"Social Engineering skills can be demonstrated without engaging in unethical activities. The contest focuses on the skills of the contestant, not who does the most damage," the contest rules say.

But given that it's Defcon, it's still likely to stir up a little trouble somehow.

One social engineering expert who plans to participate says the big difference between this year's contest and last year's is the previous challenge was smaller and had no rules. "This year, they have rules about what information you can go after and saying it has to be legal in approach and not expose certain information. Also, you can't pose as law enforcement or pretend that the person is at risk," says Joshua Perrymon, CTO and founder of PacketFocus.

The "flag" in the contest is basically a list of the specific information the contestants must get during their phone call at Defcon, and they don't receive the list until the day of the event.

"Overall, I think that this is great for social engineering. It's something that has been around forever -- con artists, NLP experts, and general human manipulation. But it's good to see that this is being presented publicly to expose how easy it is to get this information, and when done properly you can get this type of information without breaking laws," Perrymon says.

The first-place prize winner will receive a "specially branded" 16 GB iPad, according to the contest rules. The social engineering contest runs from July 30 to Aug. 1 at Defcon in Las Vegas.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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