HSC Part 2: Pros versus Joes CTF

Series: Hacker Summer Camp 2016

Continuing my Hacker Summer Camp Series, I’m going to talk about one of my Hacker Summer Camp traditions. That’s right, it’s the Pros versus Joes CTF at BSidesLV. I’ve written about my experiences and even a player’s guide before, but this was my first year as a Pro, captaining a blue team (The SYNdicate).

It’s important to me to start by congratulating all of the Joes – this is an intense two days, and your pushing through it is a feat in and of itself. In past years, we had players burn out early, but I’m proud to say that nearly all of the Joes (from every team) worked hard until the final scorched earth. Every one of the players on my team was outstanding and worked their ass off for this CTF, and it paid off, as The SYNdicate was declared the victors of the 2016 BSides LV Pros versus Joes.

Scorched Earth

What worked well

Our team put in incredible amounts of effort into preparation. We built hardening scripts, discussed strategy, and planned our “first hour”. Keep in mind that PvJ simulates you being brought in to harden a network under active attack, so the first hour is absolutely critical. If you are well and thoroughly pwned in that time, getting the red cell out is going to be hard. There’s a lot of ways to persist, and finding them all is time consuming (especially since neither I nor my lieutenant does much IR).

We really jelled as a team and worked very, very, well together on the 2nd day. We hardened faster than I thought was possible and got our network very locked down. In that day, we only lost 1000 points via beacons (10 minutes on one Windows XP host). Our network was reportedly very secure, but I don’t know how thoroughly the other teams were checking versus the “low hanging fruit” approach.

What didn’t work well

The first day, we did not coordinate well. We had machines that hadn’t been touched for hardening even after 4 hours. I failed when setting up the firewall and blocked ICMP for a while, causing all of our services to score as down. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: coordination and organization are the most important aspects of working as a team in this environment.

The Controversy

There was an issue with scoring during the competition where tickets were being counted incorrectly. For example, my team had ticket points deducted even when we had 0 open tickets: the normal behavior being that only when you had a ticket open would you lose points. This resulted in massive ticket deductions showing up on the scoreboard, which Dichotomy was only able to correct after gameplay had ended. This was a very controversial issue because it resulted in the team that was leading on the scoreboard dropping to last place and pushed my team to the top. The final scoring (announced on Twitter) was in accordance with the written rules as opposed to the scoreboard, but it still was confusing for every team involved.

Conclusion

Overall, this was a good game, and I’m very proud of my lieutenant, my joes, and all of the other teams for playing so well. I’m also very appreciative of the hard work from Dichotomy, Gold Cell, and Grey Cell in doing all of the things necessary to make this game possible. This game is the closest thing to a live fire security exercise I’ve ever seen at a conference, and I think we all have something to learn from that environment.