Virtual DEFCON28 – SealingTech Engineers Win 2nd Place At Virtual DEFCON28


BY Tony Efantis

Demonstrating their skills and expertise, some of the most valuable and skilled members of SealingTech’s engineering team participated in talks and CTF’s (Capture-the-Flags) as they represented the company and did an outstanding job at this year’s DEFCON28. The long running underground hacker conference is held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada, and has become one of the most anticipated events for some of our engineering team members over the last few years due to the extensive amounts of unique challenges to partake in, networking opportunities, and learning experiences.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DEFCON was held virtually last week, but it did not limit the thrills and experiences due to its technical nature. Some of SealingTech’s talented engineers, including Scott Lohin, Tony Efantis, and others were able to team up and scored 2nd place in the “Hack-a-Ship SeaTF” event! The event focuses on Maritime security and protocols used on ships. Among 40 teams of registered participants, only 4 were able to receive any points, so we’d like to congratulate our SealingTech DEFCON attendees for representing us through their amazing work and giving us the opportunity to highlight their experiences!



Friday: 0600 ot 1600 PDT (GMT -7), Saturday: 0600 ot 1600 PDF (GMT-7), Sunday: 0600 ot 1600 PDT (GMT -7)

Fathom5’s Maritime-Industrial CTF event allows competitors to gain hands-on experience hacking real maritime hardware in a controlled environment using Fathom5’s Grace maritime cybersecurity testbed. Grace is an accessible, realistic configuration of maritime systems where competitors complete challenges in a simulated afloat environment, with real ICS components and fieldbus protocols. The Grace testbed replicates a series of different maritime-industrial environments, including navigation, fire main, and hydraulic steering systems. The testbed makes both physical and simulated components available to competitors in order to replicate performance of maritime systems at lifelike scale. The CTF challenges scale from novice to expert-level on both IT and OT fronts such that competitors can gain experience on either side of the system. This CTF event has been deployed at DEFCON 27 (Aug 2019) as part of the Hack The Sea Village v1.0 and at HACKtheMACHINE-NYC (Sept 2019). It is also planned for to be deployed at DEFC ON 28 and HACKtheMACHINE- Atlanta in Aug 2020. This CTF can support approximately 20 teams of 3-5 individuals concurrently and typically takes 14 hours for skilled teams to navigate the challenges. The number of teams, size of teams, and depth of challenges can be adjusted to fit within host event timelines.

“One of my favorite phrases is “Hack the Planet”. It’s funny, it pays homage to cyberpunk culture that heavily influences the profession I am in, and it is a reminder that a lot of things are hackable. And it was a very relevant phrase for the SeaTF event hosted by Fathom5 at DEF CON 28. Fathom5 designed an impressive environment that they dubbed GRACE, which is a lab of maritime systems designed to teach participants about ship system security. It contains components such as navigational, communication, and mechanical systems that are used in boats around the planet. They are linked together via a few varying protocols, although we specifically worked with NMEA on the challenge.

Most of the hacking that I have experience with has been on typical IP networks, so a challenge like this really brings me out of my comfort zone. Although we ultimately did not take control of the boat, I learned a lot by parsing through the protocol and working with Tony to create code that would interact with the system. We had a pretty strong understanding of how the protocol worked in a fairly short amount of time. I’m excited to grow these skills because we were so very close to solving more of the challenges and I know that we can get way further next time.

Ships are an enormously important aspect to the human experience on this planet. They are critical to sustaining life for so many of us, and it is possible for them to be hacked if not secured properly. It’s important for us to hack the planet in events like the SeaTF – ethically and without causing actual damage. Through hacking we learn. And then we can work towards the ultimate goal–securing the planet.”

-Scott Lohin

“I had a lot of fun participating in the Hack-a-Ship-CTF hosted by for DEFCON28 this year. About 1 week ahead of registering for this event my teammate and I learned we would be working with NMEA2000 and started researching everything we could. My partner found this Hack-a-Ship-CTF and I signed us up immediately. Having never seen this event we didn’t know what to expect. As the days drew closer, we started to learn more about what would be expected from us: and offline challenge (data parsing and extraction) and an online challenge (effecting a simulated live ship and its sensors). In true CTF fashion, there were ups and there were downs. We would spend many hours sometimes through the night working on the challenges. There were 40 registered teams but only 4 teams posted any points. Being first timers, we weren’t sure if our efforts were enough but the scoreboard results at the end of each day changed our minds. We were in 2nd place bouncing into first occasionally. This definitely helps your motivation and is what can push you through the night if needed.

Prior to the event I had zero understanding of the NMEA2K protocol and about how a bus network on a ship exchanges data. Now, looking back, only a few days after the event, I feel I understand the NMEA2K protocol and how data is exchanged between devices. I feel I am sufficiently prepared to jump right in, now that the learning curve is behind me.

While we weren’t able to complete a live frame injection effecting the simulated ship, we were able to pull in 2nd place overall, we had a lot of fun, and learned a lot.”

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