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Perimeter

5/26/2010
02:57 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
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Not Too Late To Learn From Defcon CTF Qualifiers

This past weekend was the return of the wildly popular Defcon Capture the Flag qualifiers. "Quals," the commonly used nickname, is an entire weekend of non-stop online security challenges that test everything from simple trivia to advanced reverse engineering and exploit development.

This past weekend was the return of the wildly popular Defcon Capture the Flag qualifiers. "Quals," the commonly used nickname, is an entire weekend of non-stop online security challenges that test everything from simple trivia to advanced reverse engineering and exploit development.For the second year in a row, ddtek ran the event where contestants are faced with a Jeopardy-style gameboard with topics labeled Pursuits Trivial, Crypto Badness, Packet Madness, Binary L33tness, Pwtent Pwnables, and Forensics. There were point values ranging from 100 to 500, with increasing levels of difficulty for the increased point values.

Quals, and CTF for that matter, are not for the meek. The comment I heard most often from friends who participated for the first time this weekend was about just how difficult the challenges were. The forensic challenges included "forensic" disk images where you had to find the "key" to get points. Packet Madness typically included a network capture that had to be analyzed to answer a question or find a key.

As if the challenges themselves were not hard enough, this year's competition went from 3:00pm EST on Friday, May 21, to 10:00pm EST on Sunday, May 23. Fifty-five hours is a long time for a competition of any type, but especially one as intense and challenging as quals.

Wondering what the teams get out of competing? Well, for starters, the top nine go on to compete in Las Vegas during Defcon against the previous year's winning team. Then there's the camaraderie that develops amongst a team, as they spend an entire sleepless weekend working seemingly impossible challenges. The skills and tricks learned during quals are often ones that cannot be taught in a classroom. And it's a lot of fun meeting and competing online against teams from all over the world.

Having participated for several years now, it's amazing to see how much talent shows up to compete. The competition has certainly gotten stiffer each year, making it harder to get one of the illustrious slots that grants access to the main event in Vegas. However difficult, though, it's still a great learning experience for those that take the time to compete.

Even if you missed it, quite a few people have taken the time to write about the challenges, post their solutions, and host the challenges for others to download and learn from.

Take a look, learn a skill, and maybe get a new job. I know of quite a few people who've had doors open up to them based on their experiences and success with CTF events. Good luck.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John'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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