One of PPP’s favorite competitions is CSAW, mostly because it gives us an excuse to go to New York City if we qualify, but also because it was one of the first competitions that PPP won back in 2009 when it started. So, of course, in late September PPP competed in the CSAW qualification round. This year we put together 3 undergraduate teams: PPP{1,2,3} and 1 graduate team PPP5. We had both veterans and new recruits play this year.

Shortly after our weekly Friday meeting and dinner outing the teams separated and went to start with the hacking. The challenges started off pretty easy, with even the team composed entirely of new members solving all the crypto problems in a short period, but as the night progressed more difficult and interesting problems opened up.

After a few hours of sleep, the fun continued into Saturday with everyone working hard to solve as many problems as possible. But, even hackers need to eat and there is always time for a PPPPP (PPP Pizza Party).

By the end of Saturday night, PPP1 and PPP5 had solved a large subset of the problems and PPP{2,3}, while not as far, were still making constant progress. However, by Sunday morning, it became pretty clear that we would soon have to figure out how the hell to get 12 people to New York since it looked like all 3 of our teams were going to qualify for the final round.

By early November, mostly everyone was ready to skip class for a few days and go to New York City for the CSAW finals. Let it be known, that when PPP travels, PPP travels in style, so we rented two minivans and left on Thursday afternoon to drive to New York City. By the end of the night both teams had arrived safely, although one driver managed to get a speeding ticket.

The next morning we woke up and made our way over to NYU Poly’s campus to begin. The competition started at noon and went for 24 hours. The organizers of CSAW were extremely hospitable, buying us pizza, candy, and even letting us attend a fancy dinner event during which Mudge from L0pht gave a talk. The competition itself had some really fun problems, most of which were much more difficult than the those in the qualifying round. For example, one of the problems made by Dino Dai Zovi required constructing an exploit for Safari which allowed us to gain access to a box he was running remotely. However, even then the location of the keys weren’t obvious, one of the more well hidden keys required using a webcam attached to the box to take a picture of a piece of paper with a key written on it that was in front of it.

Overall, PPP had a great time and also did very well, taking both 1st and 2nd place.