Inside Rensselaer
Student Hackers Win Second Place in Computer Security Competition
With audiences filling movie theater seats to see the new movie 21 about a group of brilliant MIT students who use their smarts to count cards in Las Vegas, it is easy to understand how determined students can use their know-how for no good. Luckily, a group of Rensselaer undergrads with the power to hack into and crash computer servers only wield their power within the confines of contrived competitions. The students recently participated in a unique student competition that occurs annually at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Their programming and “rooting” prowess earned them second place.

Called the Information Security Talent Search (ISTS), the competition pits teams of undergraduates against each other in a battle to build the most robust server possible in just five hours. They are then given another five hours to tear through as many of their competitors’ servers as possible. Called “wargaming” in the industry, the competition gives students the opportunity to flex their security muscles and gain valuable skills that will greatly help them in their careers after graduation. Large Internet security firms often pay close attention to such competitions and the young up-and-comers involved.

The competition took place on March 28 and 29. This year, Rensselaer was represented at the competition by four members of the Rensselaer computer security club known as RPISEC. The team included freshmen Alex Radocea and Ryan Govostes, sophomore Rob Escriva, and junior Henry Filgueiras.

The students set up a server running standard core services such as e-mail, Web, and file exchange servers. Points were awarded for the length of time that their server remained functional, as well as for taking down competitor systems. During the five hours of this portion of the competition, Rensselaer’s team members had the second-best uptime and were able to take down multiple competitor servers, earning them a second place finish and a 4 GB encrypted flash drive for each student. Team “Al Gore” from R.I.T. took first place.

The competition pits teams of undergraduates against each other in a battle to build the most robust server possible.
They are then given five hours to tear through their competitors’ servers.
Called “wargaming” in the industry, the competition gives students the opportunity to flex their security muscles
and gain valuable skills that will help them in their careers after graduation.

“I was expecting to see custom-written services with crafted vulnerabilities during the competition,” commented Radocea. “This made the competition much more realistic but also more difficult from the offensive perspective with the given time constraints.”

Last semester RPISEC participated in two other competitions. In November, the team landed in fourth place and earned the distinction of “Best Undergraduate Team” at Polytechnic University’s CSAW CTF event. The team also participated in University of California, Santa Barbara’s iCTF, the largest competition of its kind, and placed second among U.S. teams and 13th worldwide.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 7, April 18, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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