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Mid-Atlantic CCDC - Lessons Learned in Communication

The CCDC 2011

The Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) is always a fantastic and educational event, and this year was no exception. Hundreds of people converged to share ideas, learn how to hack, learn how to defend and talk about security. Below is a brief summary of the happenings at the event:

  • The Attackers - Many of the same people as previous years filled the role of the "hackers". They did a great job this year and showed how much they've learned over the years. The big takeaway from the Red Team is sharing. Using a new tool called "Armitage", they were able to share shell access to the Blue Team hosts, proving that sharing truly is caring.
  • The Defenders - By design, the Blue teams are put at a disadvantage. This is meant to emulate the real world, where attackers have vast resources and often stay a step ahead. However, the Blue teams were very creative, employing reverse sabotage by leaving pieces of paper around the event with usernames and passwords written on them, which were completely fake.

  • pwn-the-phone.png

    The Red Team was able to re-configure the Blue Team's phones and leave them messages on the display, a digital "love note" if you will. Phones for the Blue Team were ringing throughout the event, playing random WAV files from a server as well.

  • The Game - Each Blue Team represented a power company, with several assets to make up the mock company. Systems included a network-connected power strip allowing remote power on and power off capabilities, two-factor authentication, VoIP phone systems, firewalls, and an Active Directory domain controller complete with Exchange email.
  • The Badges - Larry Pesce engineered one of the coolest badges to go along with the game: each Blue Team member had a full ZigBee-capable device that acted as a power meter. The badges were in play for the game, as the Red Team had them as well, and the goal of the Red Team was to disrupt the integrity of the Blue Team's power meters. This was accomplished on the second day of the competition, and all players got to keep their badges and were encouraged to hack them and extend functionality.


    The Blue Team badge in action.

    Getting a Seat At The Table

    As security professionals, one thing that we all strive for is a seat at the table. The table consists of the stakeholders within an organization, C-level executives and upper levels of management. The discussion around the table ideally is how to deal with risk, compliance and security. How these three areas interact, especially in times of an incident, is tricky business and something that we all need to be experts in and continually improve on.

    The Blue Teams got to experience a meeting with the CEO, played by Dr. Costis Toregas, as part of the game. The CEO wanted an update about the incidents that occurred and had disrupted business. A leader of each Blue Team was given the meeting with the CEO, and most will greatly benefit from this meeting and hopefully hone their management communication skills.

    Costis was relentless with his questioning of the Blue Team members and did an excellent job of portraying a CEO whose company was in "crisis". Often times very humorous, but spot on with his language and line of questioning.

    Some of the mistakes made that we can all learn from were:

    1. Talking About Technical Details - Many of the teams responded to the CEO's questions with answers such as, "We found shells on the systems" or "We traced back all the Ethernet cables to the firewalls". These responses are not all that helpful to management. A better approach is to talk about the controls that failed in a general sense, such as "attackers gained access to several key systems and compromised the systems’ integrity". Then, go on to talk about your plan to gain back control of your systems, including a timeline, such as "we have identified the vulnerabilities used to gain access to our systems, have a plan to correct them, and will put the systems back online by noon tomorrow".
    2. Stating the Obvious - Several teams also responded to questions with answers such as, "Our systems are down", or "The Exchange server is not working". This is not what management wants to hear either. If you are meeting with the CEO, don't tell them things they already know. Again, tell them the plan and how you are correcting the problem at a high level.
    3. Offering Apologies Instead of Facts - Admitting mistakes is difficult, but like I was saying to Costis in between interviews, it’s not about feelings. Several teams offered apologies (which were accepted) but offered no facts. The CEO likes to hear facts, and while you don't have to spend a lot of time highlighting your weaknesses, it’s okay to summarize them and then talk about what you are doing to correct them.
    4. Do What You Are Told - Costis asked each team for three distinct reports about the state of the systems and the company. Only one team was able to deliver all three reports back to the CEO 6 hours after the initial meeting. Also, several teams did not send their team leader to the follow up meeting, instead stating they were too busy and sending someone else instead. This is a big no-no. If you have a chance to meet with the CEO, do it. If you have a follow up meeting, you must attend and not send a replacement.


    Georgia Weidman, proving that some attackers are in fact "black hats". Very fitting too, as video evidence from the Blue Team's camera systems was enough to land Georgia in a mock "jail" for a few hours during the competition.


    Congratulations to the University Of Maryland College Park team for winning the regional Mid-Atlantic CCDC. They will go on to compete in the national CCDC competition in San Antonio, TX on April 8-10, 2011. Be certain to read the other write-ups from the event, including:

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    Photo credits: Ed Whitman, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

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