Carnegie Mellon University
August 14, 2023

INI students and alumni secure 7th DEF CON Capture-the-Flag title with Carnegie Mellon's hacking team

By Ryan Noone

INI Communications Team

The winningest team in DEF CON’s Capture-the-Flag (CTF) competition history, Carnegie Mellon University’s Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP), was back at it again, as the team defended its title, earning its seventh victory in the past eleven years. This year's team was joined by Erye Hernandez (INI Alum), Carolina Zarate (INI Alum), Jenish Rakholiya (INI Alum), Palash Oswal (INI Alum), Dillon Wu (INI Alum), Kevin Stephens (MSIS 33), Luke Rindels (INI Alum).

PPP joined forces with the University of British Columbia’s Maple Bacon and hackers from CMU Alum startup (The Duck), playing under the name Maple Mallard Magistrates (MMM).

DEF CON’s three-day flagship competition, widely considered the ‘Olympics’ of hacking, brought together some of the world’s most talented cybersecurity professionals, researchers, and students, as twelve of the world’s top teams (who qualified from a field of 1,828 teams) attempted to break each other’s systems, stealing virtual flags and accumulating points while simultaneously protecting their own.

As the number of cybersecurity attacks continues to increase worldwide, competitions like DEF CON’s Capture-the-Flag provide the opportunity for leading cybersecurity engineers to measure up against one another, learning and developing new techniques as they work through various challenges.

Carnegie Mellon students, faculty, and alumni once again demonstrated the University’s prowess in cybersecurity, finishing in the top spot on the leaderboard at the end of days one and two, and holding on in the competition’s final 24 hours to secure the victory. For the win, the team earned eight black badges, the most elite recognition in hacking.

“It feels great to win once again, and the team is incredibly pleased that we built and maintained a lead throughout the entire contest,” said Jay Bosamiya, PPP’s team captain for DEF CON Capture-the-Flag, a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department, and member of CMU’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute. “Our victory as MMM shows how well our three teams work together.”

PPP was first formed in 2009 and began competing at DEF CON in 2010. The team’s previous wins came in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2022, with second place finishes in 2015, 2018, 2020, and 2021. The team runs and competes in several cybersecurity competitions each year, and recently defended its title at the MITRE embedded Capture-the-Flag event (eCTF).

Members of PPP contribute to Carnegie Mellon University’s annual student-focused hacking competition, picoCTF, developing challenges of varying levels of complexity. picoCTF has long been the go-to CTF for middle and high school students looking to build and hone their cybersecurity skills, and in recent years has expanded to include an undergraduate leaderboard, as well as several country and continent-specific leaderboards.

Home to the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked undergraduate cybersecurity program, and several world-class graduate programs and courses, Carnegie Mellon University continues to lead the way in cybersecurity education and research.