LAS VEGAS, Aug 17 (Reuters) - A team of hackers from two
North American universities won the "Capture the Flag"
championship, a contest seen as the "Olympics of hacking," which
draws together some of the world's best in the field.
In the carpeted ballroom of one of the largest casinos in
Las Vegas, the few dozen hackers competing in the challenge sat
hunched over laptops from Friday through Sunday during the DEF
CON security conference that hosts the event.
The winning team, called Maple Mallard Magistrates, included
participants from Carnegie Mellon University, its alumni, and
the University of British Columbia.
The contest involves breaking into custom-built software
designed by the tournament organizers. Participants must not
only find bugs in the program but also defend themselves from
hacks coming from other competitors.
The hackers, mostly young men and women, included visitors
from China, India, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Some worked
for their respective governments, some for private firms and
others were college students.
While their countries may be engaged in cyber espionage
against one another, the DEF CON CTF contest allows elite
hackers to come together in the spirit of sport.
The reward is not money, but prestige. "No other competition
has the clout of this one," said Giovanni Vigna, a participant
who teaches at the University of California in Santa Barbara.
"And everybody leaves politics at home."
You will easily find a participant here going to another
who may be from a so-called enemy nation to say 'you did an
amazing job, an incredible hack.'"
The game has taken on new meaning in recent years as
cybersecurity has been elevated as a national security priority
by the United States, its allies and rivals. Over the last 10
years, the cybersecurity industry has boomed in value as hacking
technology has evolved.
Winning the title is a lifelong badge of honor, said Aaditya
Purani, a participant who works as an engineer at electric car
maker Tesla Inc.
This year's contest was broadcast for the first time on
YouTube, with accompanying live commentary in the style of
DEF CON itself, which began as a meetup of a few hundred
hackers in the late 1990s, was organized across four casinos
this year and drew a crowd of more than 30,000, according to
On Saturday afternoon, participants at the "Capture the
Flag" contest sat typing into their laptops as conference
attendees streamed in and out of the room to watch. Some
participants took their meals at the tables, munching on
hamburgers and fries with their eyes fixed on screens.
Seungbeom Han, a systems engineer at Samsung Electronics,
who was part of a South Korean team, said it was his first time
at the contest and it had been an honor to qualify.
The competition was intense and sitting for eight hours a
day at the chairs was not easy. They did take bathroom breaks,
he said with a laugh, "but they are a waste of time."
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Las Vegas
Editing by Matthew Lewis)