How to Score at a Hacking Competition
Over the past weekend I participated in my second CCDC, or Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.The event put college students in a defending role in five “Blue teams” and "real-world attackers" in the offensive role (pun intended) as the “Red team”. Points are incurred against the Blue teams when their systems become compromised, services are unavailable, or their systems go down. The defending team with the lowest score wins and is sent to a national "cyber exercise" competition. The event hosts a job fair, keynotes by speakers such as Marcus Ranum, a full spectator area and this year hosted two film crews who interviewed players and captured the action. You can watch the videos from last year's CCDC event on their YouTube channel.
At a hacking challenge it can be tough to keep the Red team in line and following the rules. However, the very nature of hacking involves breaking the rules! All of the Red team members did an excellent job of being hackers, and being responsible. While there is no Red team winner, we had some of the highest scoring Red teams in the event's history. You can read more about the Blue team winner and rankings on the CCDC web site.
Hacking challenges have become a bit of a hobby to me in the past few years. I've participated in two previous events and wrote about them here on the Tenable blog. The first was the NYC Capture the Flag event and the second was "Cyberdawn", a diverse cyber exercise. I learn so much by attending these events and participating as a "Red team" member. As the Red team, we set out to compromise systems, run a program that would update a scoring engine, maintain access and disrupt services and operations. It’s a tough balance to maintain; the more aggressive you become on the systems, the more the defending teams notice. Changing a password and locking the teams out incurs points, however they will notice and reset a password. Smart Red team members implant different ways to access the system, such as SSH key trusts and rootkits, to gain a foothold on the systems throughout the competition.
As the Red team captain, I developed a strategy for guiding and organizing the Red team members. We divided into sub-teams and assigned the following roles to each of the members: