I went to Defcon 16 this last weekend in Las Vegas. It was a really interesting and different experience for me this time. I would love to tell you about the great talks and the cool hacks, tools and demos. However, I can’t because I chose to inflict upon myself the experience of participating in the Mystery Challenge.
To briefly describe the Mystery Challenge is very easy, but not very informative. Basically, you agree to participate in a contest about which you are told absolutely nothing. Yup, no idea what you are going to be doing or what will be involved. I was on the Trusted Catalysts team, a community team from the Security Catalysts forums.
This year’s challenge required code breaking, puzzle solving, hardware hacking, lockpicking, finesse, software coding, forensics, book repair and just about anything else you can think of that relates to security and a lot of things that don’t. I am not going to give a blow by blow recounting of the event. I will say that it did give me the opportunity to stretch myself and, for that reason alone, was something that was well worth doing. This Wired article does a pretty good job of describing what was involved.
I learned a lot and met some great people who graciously put up with having a dork like me on the team. I heartily recommend building a team and participating if you ever have the opportunity. It was probably the best opportunity I have ever had to get my geek on with a group of people who don’t look at you like you are insane when you start talking about things like cryptographic frequency analysis, one time pads, chip timing differentials, ROT13 and asking questions like who can pick this lock?, does anybody have an arc welder?, and what day is it? Everybody who participated were great and I congratulate the teams that tied for first place. Well played!