Cyber Grand Shellphish

There’s a very interesting paper on the Cyber Grand Challenge by team Shellphish. Lots of details about the grand challenge itself, how they designed their software, how they approached the scoring algorithm, and what happened in the room.

There’s lots of good details, but perhaps my favorite is:

How would a team that did *nothing* do? That is, if a team connected and then ceased to play, would they fare better or worse than the other players? We ran a similar analysis to the “Never patch” strategy previously (i.e., we counted a CS as exploited for all rounds after its first exploitation against any teams), but this time removed any POV-provided points. In the CFE, this “Team NOP” would have scored 255,678 points, barely *beating* Shellphish and placing 3rd in the CGC.

The reason I like this is that scoring systems are hard. Really, really hard. I know that DARPA spent substantial time and energy on the scoring system, and this outcome happened anyway. We should not judge either DARPA or the contest on that basis, because it was hard to see that that would happen ahead of time: it’s a coincidence of the scores teams actually achieved.

Passwords 2016


I’m excited to see the call for papers for Passwords 2016.

There are a few exciting elements.

  1. First, passwords are in a category of problems that someone recently called “garbage problems.” They’re smelly, messy, and no one really wants to get their hands dirty on them.
  2. Second, they’re important. Despite their very well-known disadvantages, and failure to match any useful security model, and despite l Gates saying that we’d be done with them within the decade, they have advantages, and have been hard to displace.
  3. Third, they suffer from a common belief that everything to be said has been said.
  4. Fourth, the conference has a variety of submission types, including academic papers and hacker talks. This is important because there are many security research communities, doing related work, and not talking. Maybe the folks at passwords can add an anonymous track, for spooks and criminals willing to speak on their previously undocumented practices via skype or SnowBot? (Ideally, via the SnowBot, as PoC.)

Studying the real problems which plague us is a discipline that medicine and public health have developed. Their professions have space for everyone to talk about the real problems that they face, and there’s a clear focus on “have we really addressed this plague?”

While it’s fun, and valuable, to go down the memory corruption, crypto math, and other popular topics at security conferences, it’s nicer to see people trying to focus on a real cyber problem that hits every time we look at a system design.

Image: Mary E. Chollet, via Karen Kapsanis.

A Very Late Book Review

I have to start off by apologizing for how very late this review is, an embarrassing long time ago, the kind folks at No Starch Press very kindly gave me a copy of “Super Scratch Programming Adventure” to review. Scratch for those that aren’t familiar is a kids oriented programming language designed by Mitchel Resnick of the MIT Media Lab, the same team that developed the programmable bricks for Lego Mindstorms.

The book is in manga format and very entertaining and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was so much fun, that when my then ten year old asked to learn how to program with the long term goal of writing his own minecraft mods, I handed him the book and asked him what he thought. To say he whipped through the book is an understatement. He actually finished it in one reading and immediately asked if he could start playing with Scratch on the family laptop.

Over the next few days he worked his way through some of the programs in the book and put the book aside for a long while. Recently we were talking about an upcoming Lego robotics class he had coming up and he remembered that he had the copy of “Super Scratch Programming Adventure” in his room. He dug it out and this time he worked his way through all the programs quite quickly.

I asked him what he thought of the book and said it was very good; that he really liked the comic book format and that he wished more books were done that way. At this point he’s excited enough that we’ll either dig deeper into Scratch together or we’ll switch to a games oriented text like No Starch’s “Realm of Racket” or possibly Sweigarts’s “Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python”.

Regardless of what we decide to do however, I can highly recommend ““Super Scratch Programming Adventure” as a great introduction to programming for kids or even non-kids who want a first very friendly exposure to programming. And again, my apologies to the folks at No Starch Press for taking so long on this review.