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Hackers from All Over the World Competed to Join PHDays IV CTF

PHDays CTF Quals, an information security competition, took place from 12 p.m. on January 25 to 12 p.m. on January 27, with teams competing for the entire 48 hours. Dragon Sector, a Polish team, won the contest, though quite unexpectedly, PPP, from the USA, took second place and More Smoked Leet Chicken, from Russia, came in third.

The Challenge

The hands-on experience of Positive Technologies’ experts in detecting security issues is used as a basis for the tasks. This is why many of the game simulated vulnerabilities can be found in real life as well. PHDays CTF is more interesting because of its difficult tasks and also for original procedures and rules that add a strategy element to the game. The organizers develop infrastructure to provide the players with several possible game strategies, each of which can lead to the victory.

However, solving tasks typical of such competitions is not enough to win PHDays CTF. PHDays II, in 2012, provided an opportunity to score additional points by finding bonus flags in a special paper dumpster (dumpster diving). At PHDays III the organizers moved even further by including the famous hacking labyrinth in the CTF. Participants needed to get past the laser field and motion detectors, open secret doors, clear the room of bugs, fight with artificial intelligence and deactivate a bomb. PHDays IV CTF will raise the bar again.

The Atmosphere

In contrast to other information security conferences, at PHDays the CTF participants are central figures of the event and their battle becomes a key happening along with presentations by leading security experts. To make last year’s competition even more entertaining, the organizers developed a special animation inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic. With special applications for iPhone and Android, anyone could watch the battle on their mobile device. It could also be viewed online from the PHDays website. At the venue itself, the course of the battle could be followed on large monitors placed throughout the venue – where you would frequently find large groups of spectators gathered to watch the competition.

Traditionally, PHDays CTF organizers prepare both a game infrastructure and a unique plotline which adds special appeal to the contest. Such conditions create an exciting atmosphere and make the Positive Hack Days CTF contest stand out amongst similar competitions.

What others say

"If you’ve seen CTF anywhere else, normally it is just a bunch of names on a scoreboard. So it's really cool to see something that adds more character to that."

Babak Javadi (TOOOL)

"It was very different. Clearly a lot more time and effort was put into it than other CTFs. We would know because the CTF we ran was maybe about a fourth of all the setup or less and we thought we were going crazy. We know how much work is behind this." PPP.

"It is not just solving tasks. You had to have some strategy!"

Eindbazen.

PHDays IV CTF Legend, or Vectors in Chaos

When you participate in CTF contests, you have no time to get bored – quick equipment check, and it's time to save humankind :) This year at PHDays CTF, ten teams took up the battle, which started at the previous forum: last time the mysterious land D’Errorim was to be saved from four horrible monsters. However, it turned out that the monsters were fighting for peace themselves, and the benevolent worm Detcelfer eventually proved to be a monster.... Only the specially created group of experts called "Golem" left a slight chance to overpower dark forces. This time, the CTF participants acted on behalf of the group.

During the CTF quals, the teams found out, that the world D’Errorim was only one of the virtualities created as part of the PRISM project. PRISM allowed developing virtual realities and immersing individuals in the created worlds. Developed by the mysterious organization of Zohers, in the hands of "Golem" experts the project turned against its dark creators.

By immersing Zohers in a virtual world with the help of PRISM, the teams got a chance to destroy the organization in real life. Zohers relied on corrupt politicians, mercenary journalists, and black hat hackers. Our brave experts were to destroy these three forces of Zohers and find their way right into the heart of the virtual world — the citadel.

The "Golem" group managed to obtain and anonymously publish some secret data, which Zohers desperately tried to protect. The cat was out of the bag. The publications revealed election intrigues in the small state of Krakozhia: the main candidate for presidency was arrested on the charge of attempted murder of his main rival Bulat Igorenko. Zohers' puppets among American and Chinese officials were also unmasked and punished for aiding and abetting terrorist organizations and illegal financial operations. Humanity was freed from such "servants of the people" thanks to anonymous publications. But this was not enough to defeat Zohers. The media are a real weapon in skillful hands. How to defeat venal journalists? "Golem" experts found a way out — they created a separate network of satellite and Internet broadcasting, which allowed delivering information to the majority of the world's population.

Things were getting better and better. Bulat Igorenko had a commanding lead in the election race in Krakozhia, unjustly accused chemist Vector Scalarov was saved from electrocution – he could then proceed with developing his revolutionary energy source promising to truly change the world. Four corporations which suffered hacker attacks last year in May, regained their position and released enhanced versions of their security products. However, hackers also didn't waste time. The created network of delivering information to the people was severely affected by DDoS attacks, phishing and deface were also put in motion. Moreover, hackers launched highly dangerous virus targeted at the defense systems of certain countries. Fortunately, a new version of the recently enhanced security products managed to detect the virus on time, and the rest was easy — our experts were no strangers to infrastructure protection! The operation of the systems was fully restored. Three key points of Zohers' power were destroyed, and citadel storming started!

However, after forcing their way into the citadel, our intrepid fighters found no Zohers there.... "I am Detcelfer," they heard. "Your destiny is in my hands." It was artificial intelligence. Zohers never existed. Detcelfer fabricated them. The fighters got into a trap, how to escape?! The bomb planted by the experts went off in the last seconds, destroying Detcelfer. Finally! It was the long-awaited victory. The enemy of scientific progress, manipulator, and criminal – Detcelfer was exterminated. It was time to celebrate!

However, the latest news broadcasts made everyone change the festive plans.... Discovering a new energy source triggered the creation of a weapon, which was much stronger than a nuclear bomb. The small republic of Krakozhia, headed by the new president Bulat Igorenko, started to threaten with its new-sprung military capability. The very countries whose defense systems were almost destroyed by the powerful virus, negotiated forming a military alliance against Krakozhia. Experts predicted the beginning of World War III.

So that's what Detcelfer was trying to prevent! He wanted to protect us from the chaos which we were steadily moving towards. Eliminating a gifted scientist and other measures of the artificial intelligence seemed draconian, but what else to do, if scientific progress sometimes brings more harm than good? Like Hansel and Gretel from an old tale, humankind tries to find its way home through the dark forest. To find the right direction, right vector in the chaos of life.

And you, dear reader, have you already decided which side you are on? What is more important — a life of an innocent human being or survival of humankind? Can a crime in the name of noble aims be justified? Which hat to choose — black or white? And can anyone guarantee that your hat will not suddenly change its color?! Powerful weapon leading to war and artificial intelligence fighting to save humankind, — both are the products of scientific progress. So perhaps, this is where the truth is. In the struggle of light and darkness, of chaos and order? Maybe, this is what development is, the very essence of life is. It seems, that the only important thing is never to stop, but to move forward, hoping that the chosen vector is right. As for mistakes, they can be corrected. And until there are some skilled craftsmen able to create Detcelfer 2.0, hope remains with us!

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