A supercomputer is taking on humans in a hacking contest at DEF CON

The supercomputer, called Mayhem, is taking part in this year’s Capture the Flag contest

Can a supercomputer beat humans in a hacking contest? We're about to find out.

For the first time, a fully automated supercomputer is trying to compete with humans in a major hacking contest, and so far the machine is hanging in there.

The supercomputer, known as Mayhem, is among the teams taking part in this year’s Capture the Flag contest at the DEF CON security conference in Las Vegas.

The game involves detecting vulnerabilities in software and patching them, and humans have been playing it at DEF CON for years.

Now computers are getting in on the act. DARPA, a U.S. defense agency, recently held an all-machine competition, awarding $2 million to the team that did best.

Mayhem was the winner, and it's now competing against humans in the three-day event this weekend. 

On Saturday morning, the supercomputer was ranked 13th out of 15 teams playing.

Alex Rebert, one of the designers of Mayhem, said he was happy the machine wasn’t in last place. The teams that play Capture the Flag include some of the best hackers in the world, and he’s glad Mayhem seems to be holding its own.

There were some hiccups. Technical issues meant that the machine had to briefly sit out of the competition on Friday evening.

“It’s been tough,” said Rebert, who is cofounder of ForAllSecure, which built the machine. Mayhem has struggled to detect some vulnerabilities that the human teams already found.

On the plus side, Mayhem excels at patching vulnerabilities, he said. Because it’s a machine, it can get the job done fast.

Giovanni Vigna, a player on one of the other teams, said he was impressed with the supercomputer’s performance.

“The machines are not very good at making decisions," he said, but their speed helps make up for it. 

Vigna is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His team, Shellphish, has been using computer programs to help it win the game.

It may be only a matter of time before these programs can surpass humans at Capture the Flag, said Vigna, who also built a supercomputer for the DARPA contest.

Others were more skeptical and said computers will need to make a big leap in their capabilities to beat human opponents.

A member of the team Plaid Parliament of Pwning, which was beating Mayhem by a significant margin, said more sophisticated hacking challenges, perhaps involving cryptography, could be too hard even for the next generation of supercomputers to solve.

"But who knows what it will be like in ten years," he added. 

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?