Lights, Not Las Vegas Style, August 4th, noon PDT
At noon, three hours into the CGC competition, the seven competing Cyber Reasoning Systems were engaging one another in the 29th Round of competitive, software security maneuvers, all on their own without any human intervention. Taking a break in one of the ballroom seats was Devon Michel, a master electrician with Encore, an events technology firm tasked with installing the one-of-a-kind electrical rigging supplying power to satisfy the CGC’s enormous electrical appetite. When asked what stood out for him with the CGC electrical challenges, he instantly noted the mandate to keep all of the cabling visible. “We usually hide our cables, make them neat, keep them out of sight,” said Michel, referring to the more conventional events he and his team rig up at the hotel. “Here, [the CGC team] want to see everything. Nothing hidden. It’s all in the open. For us, it looks ugly.” But Michel also gets it: The goal here is to ensure the integrity of the competition and showcase for attendees that the machines are indeed working without any hidden electrical or digital inputs. “They want to make sure there are no tricks or gimmicks. They want to know it is the real thing.” It’s just one of the ways the CGC team built in the transparency they knew they needed to preempt any doubts about the competition and its results.
“We have blinking lights,” August 4th, just after 9 am PDT
At 9:00 am, in the vast ballroom of the Paris Las Vegas Conference Center, the Cyber Grand Challenge’s version of a countdown started to tick down: CRS—Go; LOC—Go; HPC—Go. Then, with a press of the return key on his keyboard, Brian Caswell, one of the referees who will be ensuring the integrity of the all-day competition, stated, “Walker, we are a go!” The first-of-its kind, all-machine, capture-the-flag competition—the culmination of the CGC—had officially begun. Visual verification that lines of code (LOC) and scads of electrons were flowing throughout the seven competing High Performance Computers (HPCs) came in the form of vertical lines of blinking blue LEDs in each of the fridge-sized machines. It meant that each of the competing Cyber Reasoning Systems (CRS) had begun its work to autonomously identify and patch vulnerabilities in software before its six blinking adversaries sharing the stage had a chance to exploit them. “We have blinking lights,” said CGC Program Manager Mike Walker said with a subtle smile. “It means it’s working.” His body language spoke of that kind of relief that can only be earned by having all of your skin in the game, for years. Meanwhile, 5000 empty seats stood as symbolic testimony to how CGC is all about the machines, particularly in the competition’s earlier set of rounds before the doors open to the public. When the doors of the ballroom open at 3:30 today, a parade of humanity—dominated by the hacker community—will begin filling those seats to witness, by way of animated visualizations depicting the otherwise inscrutable interior workings of the machines, the final and most exciting innings of the CGC. The stakes are high. One of those seven Cyber Reasoning Systems is likely to prove itself as the world’s best system at autonomously safeguarding software at computer, rather than human, speeds. That system and its human creators will take home $2 million and a momentous distinction in the history of cyber security.
A Peak Behind the Curtain, August 3rd, 7:30 pm PDT
One look at the Command Operations Center at the Paris Las Vegas Conference Center, shown here less than 24 hours before launch of the Cyber Grand Challenge competition, and the CGC’s resemblance to a space mission becomes apparent. In the COC are more than a dozen mission-critical stations, each devoted to a particular function of the overall logistics miracle that has come together to pull off the CGC. Manning the stations are experts in data analysis, graphics, visualization, camera operations, webcasting, network operation, writing and production, among other specialties. Dispersed among the meticulously-designed morass of computer racks, cables, servers, mixing boards, and black boxes of many kinds, are water bottles, chip bags, clam-shell containers with half-eaten sandwiches and even faux flowers attached to a display—signs of the humans in the loop.
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