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Copenhagen hacking team got to finals in Las Vegas

For the first time ever, a UCPH team of computer science students made the finals of DefCon - the unofficial world championships in hacking. For them, it was a 3-day, 24-hour hack-a-thon

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) team Pwnies [In hacker jargon, pwn means to compromise or control, specifically another computer, ed.] made the finals of the famous hacking competition DefCon in Las Vegas – a first for a Danish team.

Pwnies are students of Datalogy / Computer Science at UCPH and compete in legal online hacking competition 1-4 times a month – mainly to practise for bigger competitions. As beginners in a world championship setting, the 13 members of Pwnies did not expect to take a medal home with them, and ultimately didn’t. But they did gain invaluable experience, ideas and strategies, as well as an invite to next year’s competition.

“It’s seriously hard work and we couldn’t think of anything else during the competition” says Morten Thorlund, a Pwnies member. For them, the competition was essentially a three-day, 24 hour marathon in hacking. The teams were online from 10:00-18:00, but instead of indulging in Las Vegas’ night life, Pwnies stayed up all night preparing for the next day.

Attack from all sides

The competition was a so-called Capture-The-Flag competition: Each team is given a server to defend, whilst also attacking enemy servers and finding their ‘flag’. Capturing a flag gives points, the amount of which are determined by how many other teams have captured the same flag within a certain period of time.

The teams were divided up into defenders and attackers. According to Thorlund, the defenders had a hard task – it’s very intense to have to defend your server against 19 enemy teams.

“We pretty much panicked a thousand times during the competition,” says Thorlund, “But we have learnt so much about communicating within our team and can probably do a lot better next year.”

High hopes

They knew several of the competing teams already, as they compete in many online hacker competitions throughout the year, but meeting them in real life has given them a whole new network – a major plus for Pwnies, as these are an integral part of the IT world.

Now that they have been granted free entry to next year’s DefCon, they’re looking forward to getting back into it and getting even better for next year.

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