Security Puzzle Solving

For an outsider, the world of cybersecurity and hacking can be complex and mystifying. People are intrigued and terrified by the “400 lb hacker.” With phishing and other forms of social engineering still being one of the most common root cause of breach, there is a need to empower a company’s employees, especially the non-technical ones, to be able to defend and not fall prey to such attacks. Similarly, the increase in the amount of code being written along with the shortage of cybersecurity professionals calls for a need to train software developers in Security. Traditional methods of awareness including lectures, videos etc. have been ineffective in achieving this adequately. I claim this based on reports by organizations such as Experian, Ponemon etc. and the extensive internal research done at my current company. I present a novel system for cybersecurity training and awareness : Security Gamification including CTF (Capture The Flags). The training emphasizes on a ‘no one left behind’ principle in which all the employees at a company get trained in CyberSecurity defense.

CTFs are online cybersecurity competitions that involve practical hands on training through Security puzzle solving. They are mostly played by current or aspiring Security professionals and have proven to be one of the best ways to learn about Security and defense. My training method is novel in that this is the first publicly released use of CTFs and Security puzzles to train developers and non-technical people. CTFs rely on the interactive ‘learning by doing’ methodology which has proven to be more successful than the one-way incoming lecture style. We use this methodology to gamify the Security training for technical as well as nontechnical employees by varying the scopes and level of challenges. The idea is to help the participants learn how to defend by making them break or hack things in a controlled environment. It helps the participants defend better by getting into the attacker mindset, thereby de-mystifying the hacking world. Additionally, the healthy competition amongst employees, the fun puzzle based format and the chance to work in teams all provides exceptional learning opportunities.

In my presentation, I will also delve into the key take-aways for people interested in building a similar system at their respective companies. This detailed interaction will contain discussions about the reconnaissance of Security awareness at a company needed as step one of building this system. Then, it will go on to demo some example challenges for both developers as well as non-technical employees. I also plan to include a brief section about how to present it such that the employees and leadership are excited about it rather than seeing it as a burden.

One of the many appealing things about this system is its ability to effectively track and quantifiably measure the increase in Security awareness and defense capabilities over time. Starting from the reconnaissance phase, all the way to successfully completing the implementation and even after that, the system provides functionality of number of challenges solved, time taken, number of attempts etc. for each employee which can also be combined per team, per department or the whole company etc.

Kashish Mittal

Kashish Mittal is a Security Education Engineer at Elevate Security, a startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has 3+ years of experience in the Security industry and has worked for companies such as Bank of America, Deutsche Bank etc. By choice, he is an ethical hacker and an addicted CTF player. He is a member of PPP (CMU's elite CTF group) that won DefCon 24 and 23 CTF competitions. Prior to his current role, he did Security Research at Cylab, Pittsburgh. He has a BS and a MS from Carnegie Mellon University majoring in ECE with a focus on Security.

He is passionate about delivering Security awareness and training for employees, college students and high schoolers etc.