Hackers develop skills at Defcon convention with virtual Capture the Flag

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LAS VEGAS — They sat at tables along the perimeter of a ballroom in the Rio Hotel. Lights were low. Laptops burned like campfires. Men and women hunched over the machines, their backs curved like question marks. Their fingers clicked away furiously.

I had no idea what this was all about. I asked a gentleman who seemed to be among the oldest in the room.

“This is a spelling bee for hackers,” Giovanni Vigna, 42, a professor of computer science from the University of California, Santa Barbara, explained. “It’s a way to prove your hacking skills.”

Each team, he said, was given the same type of virtual server, each with the same strengths and weaknesses. Each team was charged with defending its server and attacking those of others. Each time a weak spot was attacked, a flag was awarded. The one with the most flags wins. Hence, the name of the contest: Capture the Flag. This is the final round.

This year’s game came with one nasty little surprise. It was conducted in what is considered the next language of the Internet, called IPv6. If you came prepared to compete in a spelling bee in English, suddenly the spelling bee was being conducted in Finnish.

Full Story: Picking Locks and Hacking Servers at Defcon