Interdisciplinary Group Heads to Korea for "Capture the Flag" Competition


April 6, 2010

Mention "capture the flag" to just about anyone, and images of kids racing across lawns trying to infiltrate each others' bases come to mind. Talk to Assistant ECE Professor David Brumley and his Plaid Parliament of Pwning team, though, and capture the flag becomes more than just child's play. It's a computer security war game that requires each team or individual in the competition to find a key source of information by solving a host of challenging problems.

In fact, Plaid Parliament of Pwning (or PPP, as it's known) is in Seoul, South Korea, this week for the final round of competition this academic year. The group of ECE and computer science students and staffers has participated in more than seven international competitions during the 2009-2010 academic year, placing in the top four spots in all but one competition. They go in with high expectations, too: last year they earned first place in the 8th Annual HUST Creative and Fun Capture the Flag Competition in Seoul.

While the name might sound like it's all fun and games, the competition is often grueling, lasting as long as 48 hours. But it also provides invaluable hands-on practice with skills students need to be the security experts of tomorrow. Typical challenges include finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in programs and breaking encrypted messages.

"The game and the team concept is great because it allows students to hone skills and better understand web hacking, binary reverse engineering, exploitation of information, forensics and cryptography," Brumley said.

"It has really been a wonderful learning experience because each competition is different and we get to expand our knowledge base," said ECE PhD student Sang Kil Cha.

In addition to Cha, team members include ECE students Joseph Lee (first year), Ed Schwartz (PhD), Thanassis Avgerinos (PhD), Andrew Tran (PhD) and Jiyong Jang (PhD); ECE staffers Michael Stroucken and Ivan Jager; computer science students Tyler Nighswander (first year), Hudson Thrift (first year), Ricky Zhou (sophomore), David Kohlbrenner (junior), Brian Pak (team captain and junior), and Andrew Wesie (junior); Information Networking Institute master's degree students Jonathan Cooke and Joseph Ceirante; and JongHyup Lee, a post- doctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon CyLab.

For more on the team, visit

Plaid Parliament of Pwning is competing in the final capture the flag competition in Korea this week.

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David Brumley

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