Carnegie Mellon's hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP), won its seventh straight capture the flag competition last week at the annual Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) conference hosted by New York University. The contest consisted of 15 qualifying teams from the United States and Canada, while the qualifying round leading up to the final event drew 2,454 teams from 92 countries.
"One of our team's greatest strengths is working well under pressure," said Christopher Ganas, a sophomore computer science student and one of the team's co-leaders. "Even when we were very behind in score, we kept course and refused to slow down."
During the competition, teams hacked their way into servers hosted by the competition organizers, completing challenges and capturing virtual "flags" worth points. At this year's CSAW contest, Ganas played alongside fellow PPP members Ned Williamson, Tim Becker and Richard Zhu.
PPP gained the lead late in the 36-consecutive-hour contest, surpassing 1064CBread, a hacking team comprising players from California and Virginia. Two of 1064CBread's players had previously competed against Ganas and Becker in a high school hacking contest, picoCTF, prior to enrolling at CMU and joining PPP.
"Ever since we lost to 1064CBread in picoCTF 2013, we knew they were going to be a major competitor," Ganas said. "We knew they were going to be the team to beat at CSAW this year, and they really motivated us to work harder."
The CSAW Capture the Flag competition is one of several hacking contests PPP participates in every year, including DEFCON — known to many as the "World Series of Hacking" — which PPP has won twice in the past three years.