Carnegie Mellon University
August 14, 2019

Carnegie Mellon Wins Fifth “World Cup” of Hacking

By Daniel Tkacik

Daniel Tkacik
  • College of Engineering
  • 412-268-1187

Carnegie Mellon University’s competitive hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP), continued its dominance in computer security by winning its fifth hacking world championship in seven years at this year’s DefCon security conference, Aug. 8-11 in Las Vegas.

Widely considered the “World Cup” of hacking, PPP now holds two more world titles than any other team in the 23-year history of DefCon hosting the competition. The championship is played in the form of a virtual game of “capture the flag.”

“If you’re wondering who the best and brightest security experts in the world are, look no further than the capture the flag room at DefCon,” said David Brumley,  professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon and the team’s faculty adviser.

Three of the five biggest data breaches ever have occurred in the past 12 months, leaking nearly 2 billion personal records. For security experts trying to defend against these types of attacks, the annual DefCon conference provides an opportunity to hone their skills and practice on one another.

image of CMU's winning teamCMU's Plaid Parliament of Pwning has won two more world titles than any other team in the 23-year history of DefCon hosting the competition. 

"These competitions are so much more than just games," said Zach Wade, a student in Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science and one of PPP’s team captains. "They bring together the security community to share and test new ideas that can be used to strengthen the security of the systems and devices we use every day."

Over the course of the 72-hour hacking spree, teams made up of students, industry workers and government contractors attempted to break into each other’s systems, stealing virtual “flags” and accumulating points. To add drama, team scores were hidden from view on the second day, and scores and rankings were hidden on the last day, sending teams into a hacking frenzy.

“Our team’s success reflects our dedication to training the problem-solvers of the future,” said Jon Cagan, interim dean of CMU’s College of Engineering.

This year’s competition consisted of 16 pre-qualified teams with members from at least seven countries around the world. Team “HITCONxBfKin” from Taiwan placed second overall, with team “Tea Deliverers” from China placing third.

The Carnegie Mellon hacking team first formed in 2009 and began competing at DefCon in 2010. The team previously won the contest in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.