Get hands-on cybersecurity and blockchain skills in NSA’s Codebreaker Challenge


NSA’s sixth annual Codebreaker Challenge is a hands-on, cybersecurity engineering challenge in which students work to complete mission-focused objectives and push their university to the top of the competition leaderboard.

The 2018 scenario involves ransomware and blockchain. A new strain of ransomware has managed to penetrate several critical government networks and NSA has been called upon to assist in remediating the infection to prevent massive data losses. For each infected machine, an encrypted copy of the key needed to decrypt the ransomed files has been stored in a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain and is set to only be unlocked upon receipt of the ransom payment. Your mission is to ultimately (1) find a way to unlock the ransomware without giving in to the attacker’s demands and (2) figure out a way to recover all of the funds already paid by other victims. Are YOU up to the challenge?

UMBC students did well, both individually and as a group, in previous challenges.  Let’s make it to the top of the leaderboard this year.

Feedback from previous iterations of the challenge showed that students were able to learn a great deal from participating. Each student receives a slightly different set of challenge binaries and associated files, so that one student’s solution won’t work for someone else. The binaries are similar enough so that students can work together to understand the problems and develop approaches to solutions and hen implement them independently and register their results.

The 2018 challenge consists of a series of tasks that are worth a varying amount of points based upon their difficulty. In previous years, tasks had to be solved in order to unlock the next task and rankings were based upon the quantity of solvers that progressed the furthest from each school. This way of ranking heavily weighted progression above participation and did not allow for skipping ahead if a particular task became a stumbling block. So to address these issues, all tasks will be available immediately upon registration and can be solved in any order. The point value associated with each task is based on relative difficulty and schools will be ranked according to total number of points accumulated by their students. It is still recommended to solve tasks in order since the tasks flow with the storyline, but that is no longer a requirement.