A group of students from Northeastern University participated in the MITRE’s Embedded Capture the Flag competition where they were challenged to build a security system that can protect its intellectual property. The group successfully designed a prototype gaming console that stopped every attempted attack and won the competition.
The students also proved to be impressive hackers, themselves, by defeating the security measures in the systems designed by the other teams. This helped them gain a series of digital ‘flags’ ultimately helping them win the first place. In addition to the first place, the Northeastern students also received the “Iron Flag” award for successfully keeping all attackers out of their system, and the “Best Documentation” award for ensuring that their code was clear and easy to understand.
Talking about the competition, one of the participants Dennis Giese, who is a visiting scholar at Northeastern, says, “As a defender, you have to solve every problem. To win the game, you need to close everything, as an attacker, you only have to poke a hole somewhere in this whole system. It’s a very asymmetric thing.”
Guevara Noubir, a professor of computer sciences and director of Northeastern’s cybersecurity graduate program who advised the team, says, “It’s not easy to build something such that things get encrypted in the processor before they are written in the memory.” He says that the students took notes of the patched holes that they found in the security of their own system which helped them when they moved on to the attack phase as they checked their competitors’ code for these same gaps. “It was quite impressive,” says Noubir.
The team is hoping to start a new cybersecurity club on campus to help a wider range of students learn about and get involved in hands-on competitions. Giese concludes by saying that developers and product designers need to have an understanding of what kind of shady things can happen since even one single mistake can damage the entire system’s security.