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The Intercept (Hardware CTF)

– – – INITIAL CONTACT 20210412 – – –
We got some new toys here in the lab, but there’s something a bit off about them. We’ve noticed they don’t seem to be doing what the manufacturers described – could we be victims of supply chain attack? The lab monkeys are hard to understand (all that techno-mumbo-jumbo), but they’re saying the devices seem to be emitting a variety of strange signals. As always we need your help to figure things out. We’ve left the package at the arranged location. Can you intercept and decipher all the strange signals?
– – – SCHEDULED TRANSMISSION 20210421 – – –
Prior to shipment we’ve been able to confirm a large amount of signals emitted by this thing, but we’ve yet to understand them. We’ve identified a few of the components (some LEDs, a buzzer, some kind of round thing?) but they’ve covered this whole thing in some kind of goop that makes connecting probes impossible. Looks like they’ve also fully locked down the firmware side of things. You’ll probably have better luck focusing on the signals themselves. Call in your team and make sure they are ready for a challenge. Be careful, you’re on your own out there. You’re cleared to modify the device to get the job done but beware: if you break it we don’t have a backup to bail you out! Next contact 2021-MAY-29 with device unlock instructions.

The Intercept is a hardware Capture the Flag (CTF) event focused on testing your skills in hardware hacking, anti-tamper technologies, reverse engineering, programming, and more! With this year being virtual, you can chat with others about the contest in the #theintercept Discord channel of the LayerOne Discord Server.

The main contest occurs during LayerOne 2021 on May 29 @ 10:00 AM Pacific to May 30 @ 4:00 PM Pacific time. There are no restrictions on team size for the main event. Due to a limited number of contest packages, teams must be pre-qualified for the 2021 event. Sorry to those that missed out – please check out the Capture the Flag and other contests & events for more hacking challenges!

Anything is fair game in terms of the package itself, but we strongly encourage you to not bother with trying to dump device firmware. We have tried to make this as hard as is possible to discourage this path. Think of this as a “signals CTF” or “side channel CTF” with hardware and anti-tamper components to it. We will not be scoring on any tamper-evident features this year, so feel free to modify your package as you see fit with the caveat that any damage done to it cannot be fixed by contest organizers. (We will release the firmware image, but only AFTER the contest).

“What do I need for this contest?” We strongly recommend reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Side-channel_attack for a high-level overview – there are a lot more simple approaches but that is the high-level, academic view of the topic. Beyond that, think of what peripherals a standard electronics device might have that could be used to emit data and how you might go about identifying, capturing, and deciphering them.