On May 18th, PPP was in Moscow playing in the Positive Hack Days CTF competition. This competition was organized by Positive Technologies, a computer security firm located in Russia. Andrew, Brian, David, Ricky, and Tyler traveled to Russia to participate in the challenge.

This was the first time in Russia for most members of the team, and none of us knew many Russian words or phrases, which made the trip quite interesting. Luckily the organizers of the competition sent Yulia to pick us up from the airport, as well as to help us check into our hotel and do some translating into English for us.

After settling into our hotel and managing to get some food without using the Russian language, we went to bed after a long day of travel. The next day we tried out the Russian metro system (if we can handle crypto, we can handle Russian, right?), traveling to Red Square and Izmailovsky Park.

There were many beautiful and historic buildings, though we didn’t have enough time to see them all. Eventually we traveled to Izmailovsky Park, where we were able to get some food and take a break from the urban Moscow life.

Of course, with the CTF competition fast approaching, we needed to get back to our hotel and get some rest so we could be ready to pwn in the morning.

After a good night’s sleep, we went to the adjoining building to our hotel for the PHDays conference and competition.

We were pretty surprised once we got into the actual location where the CTF was being held. Not only was the room originally a nightclub rather than a standard conference hall, but everything was setup in the room quite awesomely. There were three large projectors displaying the status of game services for each team, a standard scoreboard, as well as a neat visualization of attacks between teams.

The competition organization was quite excellent. Not only were there a ton of challenges (some of which we didn’t even have time to look at), the organizers also had some awesomely made video clips throughout the competition to introduce new updates, which were handed to us in envelopes marked “Top Secret”.

Throughout most of the competition we were able to maintain a pretty good lead by patching and exploiting services quickly, rather than spending time focusing on “blackbox” problems (which were like more typical CTF style problems).

Of course, LeetMore did not let us relax our guard, so we had to keep working hard the entire competition to maintain our lead. In the end, we were able to stay ahead of everyone else and take first place!!!

After the eight hour competition we had some time to talk with the other teams, as well as eat some food (and cake!) while listening to live music.

Afterwards there was a small individual “Russian style” hacking contest, followed by the awards ceremony.

Not only did Positive Technologies give us an awesome trophy, they also gave us our prize money in a bad-ass looking briefcase. Because really, what better way to receive your prize money than in a locked briefcase?

After the ceremony was over, we went back to our rooms to get some sleep after a long day of hacking.

On our last day in Moscow, the organizers from Positive Technologies set up a tour for all the foreign teams to see the city. Despite some heavy traffic close to Red Square, we still had a great time with our friends from Nibbles, BIOS, and Positive Technologies.

After our tour of Moscow, we all went out to dinner with the international teams, as well as presenters and organizers from Positive Hack Days. Unfortunately, the CTF teams from Russia were not able to make it to dinner, so we did not have more time to hang out and talk with them.

After dinner we walked around Moscow until nighttime, when we eventually went back to our hotel to rest for the trip home.

The next day we took a taxi to the airport (again kindly arranged by Positive Technologies), where PPP parted ways for our journey back to the United States. Hopefully next year we will be able to participate in Positive Hack Days again, and see all our friends and fellow hackers. We would like to thank all of the organizers for Positive Hack Days. It was very clear that a lot of work went into making the competition and conference run smoothly, and we are very thankful for one of the best run competitions we’ve seen!

(Many more pictures from multiple sources, collected by the competition organizers can be found here.)