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CMU team wins fourth World Series of Hacking title

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, 12:39 p.m.
Carnegie Mellon University alumni Eyre Hernandez (left) and Tyler Nighswander, compete during the 2017 World Series of Hacking at the DefCon cyber security conference in Las Vegas. The Plaid Parliament of Pwning won the Capture the Flag competition for the fourth time.
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University alumni Eyre Hernandez (left) and Tyler Nighswander, compete during the 2017 World Series of Hacking at the DefCon cyber security conference in Las Vegas. The Plaid Parliament of Pwning won the Capture the Flag competition for the fourth time.

In hacker slang, CMU students pwned the competition.

Carnegie Mellon University's hacking team won its fourth World Series of Hacking title this weekend at the DefCon cyber security conference in Las Vegas.

Teams at these competitions play digital capture the flag. They try to hack into other teams' servers while protecting their own. If they break in, they snatch a virtual flag and score points.

CMU's hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning, formed in 2009. It won World Series of Hacking titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016.

I caught up with Tim Becker, the team's captain and a computer science student at CMU, to learn more.


Trib: First, and I'm sure you get this a lot, can you explain the team name, Plaid Parliament of Pwning?

Becker: Sure. The name was created well before I joined the team, but here is the story that I've heard:

"Pwn" is hacker slang for "Own," meaning to own somebody else's computer via hacking. The founders wanted our name to convey our association with CMU (this is where "Plaid" comes from), and the "Parliament" completes the alliteration.

Trib: Clever. How does it feel to win another World Series of Hacking title? Have offers from the CIA, FBI, NSA and top companies come pouring in yet?

Becker: It feels great to set a record like this while having so much fun in the process. I'm very proud that we've built a team of CMU students that compete with the best in the world.

While some people view these competitions as merely games, many companies and agencies have recognized that our skills are exactly what they seek. I've already received job offers as a direct result of our success in Capture the Flags.

Trib: Hacking gets a bad rep. How can you and the team use your powers for good, not evil?

Becker: Most of our team members work in the computer security industry. Hundreds of major software companies now reward hackers like us for identifying security flaws before the "bad guys" do.

Trib: What do you plan to do next? Was this your last World Series of Hacking contest?

Becker: Personally, I plan to pursue graduate studies in Cryptography, but I will continue to compete with the PPP.

As a team, we're far from finished. We'd love to return next year and defend our title.


Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.


Correction: August 2, 2017

This story has been corrected to reflect the team winning their fourth title.

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