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Carnegie Mellon’s competitive computer security team, The Plaid Parliament of Pwning, won its third title in four years at the DefCon Capture the Flag competition. The win came on the heels of CMU-spinoff ForAllSecure’s win at the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge just days earlier.

The DefCon Capture the Flag competition, widely considered the “World Series of Hacking,” was held August 7 – 9 at the Paris and Bally’s Hotels in Las Vegas.

“Our team has put in thousands of hours of practice and it is rewarding to see them win amongst the best hackers in the world,” says David Brumley, faculty advisor to the CMU team. “Every year this competition becomes harder and harder to win.”

Capture the Flag (CTF) is one of the most popular competitive hacking games in the world, with hundreds of smaller CTFs being held annually. During these competitions, teams try to break into competitors’ servers while protecting their own. After achieving a successful breach, teams catch virtual “flags” and earn points.

These students will clearly help drive the next level of cybersecurity.

James H. Garrett Jr., Dean, College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

While thousands of CTF teams exist worldwide, only 15 teams representing at least 10 countries qualified for this year’s DefCon CTF.

“The consistency of our team’s performance over the last four years demonstrates CMU’s strength in cybersecurity education and research,” says Jim Garrett, dean of the College of Engineering. “These students will clearly help drive the next level of cybersecurity.”

Carnegie Mellon’s win comes at a time that the computer security field is struggling to find suitable hires to join the workforce. These contests give people a place to practice and hone their computer security skills.

“These contests are critically important to developing a skilled cybersecurity workforce,” says Brumley.

The Carnegie Mellon hacking team formed in 2009 and began competing in DefCon’s Capture the Flag competition in 2010. Prior to this year, the team held two DefCon Capture the Flag titles from 2013 and 2014.