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UMass Team of ECE and CICS Students Finishes Third at MITRE Embedded Systems Capture the Flag Competition



A UMass team of undergraduate and graduate students from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE) and the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) placed third in the MITRE Cyber Academy Collegiate Embedded Systems Capture the Flag Competition, which is an embedded systems cyber security attack and defense competition.

"Team ZOO_MES" was composed of Ryan Lagasse, Christopher Barbeau (M.S.), and Zachary Little from ECE, as well as Ryan Lee (Freshman) and Samuel Harris (Junior) from CICS. The "MES" stands for the "MITRE Entertainment System" the team designed.

In this year’s competition, each team designed a secure video game console on the Digilent Arty Z7. Each console system attempted to protect the intellectual property of game designers, prevent users from loading their own software, and allow verified users to install and play games that they have purchased.

According to the MITRE website, “As a not-for-profit organization chartered to work in the public interest, MITRE is providing this Cyber Academy to foster the education and collaboration of cyber professionals. Our growing set of resources is provided to help you develop your technical skills as a cyber-security professional.”

The MITRE website added that its eCTF (embedded capture-the-flag) “is an embedded security competition that puts participants through the experience of trying to create a secure system and then learning from their mistakes. The main target is a real physical embedded device, which opens the scope of the challenge to include physical/proximal access attacks.”

The event involves three steps:

  • Secure Design ─ Each teams designs a secure system that meets all the challenge requirements.
  • Handoff ─ MITRE verifies that each submitted system has met all functional requirements. MITRE posts designs for all teams to evaluate during the attack phase.
  • Attack ─ Teams perform security evaluations of opposing teams’ systems and request provisioned chips for vulnerable systems. Points are awarded for flags retrieved from successful attacks.

MITRE provides all teams with a reference implementation, embedded hardware, and technical guidance throughout the competition. Winning teams receive a cash prize, publicity from MITRE, and typically earn accolades from their university as well. Students have used their participation in eCTF to build resumes, present at conferences, and open the door to valuable internship and career opportunities, including engineering positions at MITRE.

Students who are interested in participating in the 2020 MITRE Collegiate Embedded Systems Capture the Flag (which starts prior to the spring semester) should contact either Ryan Lee or Samuel Harris for more information. (May 2019).