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CMU Hacking Team Wins Super Bowl of Hacking for 6th Time

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Ryan Noone
College of Engineering
Peter Kerwin
University Communications & Marketing

Carnegie Mellon University showed off its computer security talent by winning DEF CON's Capture the Flag competition, the "Super Bowl of hacking," for the sixth time. The team comprised CMU students in the Plaid Parliament of Pwning(opens in new window), who joined forces with CMU alumnus Professor Robert Xiao's Maple Bacon(opens in new window) (at the University of British Columbia) and alumni startup Theori(opens in new window).

Together the teams formed a new squad under the name Maple Mallard Magistrates(opens in new window) (MMM), finishing in the top spot on the leaderboard at the end of days one and two, and holding on during the competition's final day to take this year's crown.

Plaid Parliament of Pwning (PPP) won five hacking world championships between 2013 and 2019, the most victories by any team in the competition's history. Playing as an expanded team this year, PPP has now earned its sixth title in 10 years. Winners each year get 8 "black badges" — the most elite recognition in hacking. PPP now has 48 total black badges.

"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 DEF CON," said David Brumley(opens in new window), an Electrical and Computer Engineering(opens in new window) professor at CMU and the faculty adviser to the team.

Over the course of the 72 hour hacking spree, 16 qualifying teams made up of students, industry workers and government contractors from around the world attempted to break into each other's systems, stealing virtual flags and accumulating points while simultaneously trying to protect their own.

"The hacking challenges this year spanned many different formats, exploring different skills and giving us all the chance to both showcase and stretch our abilities," said Jay Bosamiya, PPP's team captain, a Ph.D. student in Carnegie Mellon's Computer Science Department(opens in new window), and member of CMU's CyLab Security and Privacy Institute(opens in new window).

Carnegie Mellon's hacking team first formed in 2009 and began competing at DEF CON in 2010. The team previously won the contest in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

The victory builds on CMU's prowess in cybersecurity, a strength shared with the rising generation through picoCTF(opens in new window), a free and robust computer security education program that hosts the world's largest high school hacking competition.

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