NSA’s ‘Codebreaker Challenge’ Features Exploiting Blockchain To Steal Ethereum

“The National Security Agency’s 2018 Codebreaker Challenge kicked off on Friday, 9/21, and runs through 12/31,” writes Slashdot reader eatvegetables. Each year’s challenge — which is open to U.S. students — comes with its own (fictitious) backstory which the organizers say is “meant for providing realistic context.”

This year’s story?

A new strain of ransomware has managed to penetrate several critical government networks and NSA has been called upon to assist in remediating the infection to prevent massive data losses. For each infected machine, an encrypted copy of the key needed to decrypt the ransomed files has been stored in a smart contract on the Ethereum blockchain* and is set to only be unlocked upon receipt of the ransom payment. Your mission is to ultimately (1) find a way to unlock the ransomware without giving in to the attacker’s demands and (2) figure out a way to recover all of the funds already paid by other victims.

* For the purposes of this challenge, a private blockchain has been created with no real monetary value associated with the Ether.
“The first half focuses on network protocol analysis and binary reverse-engineering,” writes eatvegetables, while “The second half is all about attempting to exploit the blockchain.”

An email address from “a recognized U.S. school or university” is required, and the original submission notes that America’s college students “are already hard at work trying to push their school to the top of the leaderboard.”

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