Carnegie Mellon University
August 08, 2016

Carnegie Mellon Wins Third "World Series of Hacking" in Four Years

Daniel Tkacik / 412-268-1187 /

DefCon Capture the Flag
School of Computer Science alumni George Holz (left) and Ricky Zhou are part of this year's winning Capture the Flag team at DefCon.

Carnegie Mellon University's competitive computer security team, The Plaid Parliament of Pwning, won its third title in four years at the DefCon Capture the Flag competition.

The DefCon Capture the Flag competition, widely considered the "World Series of Hacking," was held Aug. 7-9 in Las Vegas. The win comes on the heels of CMU spinoff ForAllSecure's win at the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge just days earlier.

"Our team has put in thousands of hours of practice and it is rewarding to see them win amongst the best hackers in the world," said team faculty adviser David Brumley, director of Carnegie Mellon's CyLab Security and Privacy Institute and professor of electrical and computer engineering. "Every year this competition becomes harder and harder to win."

Plaid Parliament of Pwning jacketCapture the Flag (CTF) is one of the most popular competitive hacking games in the world, with hundreds of smaller CTFs being held annually. During these competitions, teams try to break into competitors' servers while protecting their own. After achieving a successful breach, teams catch virtual "flags" and earn points.

While thousands of CTF teams exist worldwide, only 15 teams qualified for this year's DefCon CTF.

"The consistency of our team's performance over the last four years demonstrates CMU's strength in cybersecurity education and research," said Jim Garrett, dean of Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering. "These students will clearly help drive the next level of cybersecurity."

Carnegie Mellon's win comes at a time when the computer security field is struggling to find suitable hires to join the workforce. These contests give people a place to practice and hone their computer security skills.

"These contests are critically important to developing a skilled cybersecurity workforce," Brumley said.

Frank Pfenning, head of the School of Computer Science's Computer Science Department, said that CMU graduates are highly prized by employers. "Carnegie Mellon's approach to computer science education — rigorous and grounded in strong fundamentals that enable deep understanding of real-world applications — helps prepare our students to meet the challenges of cybersecurity," he said.

The Carnegie Mellon hacking team was formed in 2009 and began competing in DefCon's CTF competition in 2010. Prior to this year, the team held two DefCon titles in 2013 and 2014.