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NSA Codebreaker Challege

Background

DISCLAIMER: The following is a FICTITIOUS story meant for providing realistic context for the Codebreaker Challenge and is not tied in any way to actual events.

Terrorists have recently developed a new type of remotely controlled Improvised Explosive Device (IED), making it harder for the U.S. Armed Forces to detect and ultimately prevent roadside bomb attacks against troops deployed overseas. The National Security Agency (NSA), in accordance with its support to military operations mission, has been asked to develop capabilities for use against this new threat. This will consist of six tasks of increasing difficulty, with the ultimate goals of being able to disarm the IEDs remotely and permanently render them inoperable without the risk of civilian casualties.

Are YOU up to the challenge?!

Description

The NSA Codebreaker Challenge provides students with a hands-on opportunity to develop their reverse-engineering / low-level code analysis skills while working on a realistic problem set centered around the NSA’s mission.

The fictional backstory for the challenge is as follows: Terrorists have recently developed a new type of remotely controlled Improvised Explosive Device (IED), making it harder for the U.S. Armed Forces to detect and ultimately prevent roadside bomb attacks against troops deployed overseas. The National Security Agency (NSA), in accordance with its support to military operations mission, has been asked to develop capabilities for use against this new threat. This will consist of six tasks of increasing difficulty, with the ultimate goals of being able to disarm the IEDs remotely and permanently render them inoperable without the risk of civilian casualties.

There are six different levels or “tasks” to the challenge, with each one being progressively more difficult and building off of the previous tasks. The basic goal of each task is as follows:

  • Task 1: Compute a hash and identify IED network ports
  • Task 2: Refine IED network traffic signature
  • Task 3: Decrypt IED key file
  • Task 4: Disarm an IED with the key
  • Task 5: Disarm any IED without a key
  • Task 6: Permanently disable any IED

While the challenge is intended for students, professors are encouraged to participate as well. Furthermore, the site was designed to make it easy for those professor interested in incorporating the challenge into their courses to do so.

Getting Started

To begin, you will have to signup at https://codebreaker.ltsnet.net/auth/register. You will then need to go to the challege page, https://codebreaker.ltsnet.net/challenge, and download the materials provided for Task 1. The resource section of the site links to information on how to start reverse engineering the challenge binary, but to begin, try running the challenge binary (See ‘Are the binaries on this site safe to run on my computer?’ before doing this) and using a program like IDA Pro Demo or ‘strings’ to look at the character strings stored in the binary.