Mhackeroni winning in Las Vegas (it's hacking... for fun!)

The Italian team won the prestigious Hack a-Sat competition, organised by the US Department of Defence. The (achieved) objective: to breach the computer security of a satellite

Mario Polino is 33 years old and has a lot of black, curly hair hinting at an originality expressed through knowing how to be a hacker: that is, knowing how to hack a computer system in order to protect it. He is a Cyber security researcher at the Department of Electronics Information and Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milanoand captain of the team Mhackeroni, , an inter-university group of about 60 people where Politecnico, with its internal team 'Tower of Hanoi', is the most represented.

Polino told us about an Italian victory in a very prestigious competition open to everyone, not just universities, held in August 2023 in Las Vegas: Hack a-Sat (ie ‘hack a satellite’). It was organised by the US Department of Defence, which launched a real satellite into space, and took place during the DEF CON 31 conference (10-13 August 2023) in Las Vegas. To have an idea of the level of this competition, the organising body (Air Force Research Laboratory) is the same one that devised the GPS system.

Over 300 teams from all over the world took part in the competition, but only five made it to the final in Las Vegas: one Italian, one German, one Polish and two mixed US-UK teams.

‘These competitions are not just about attack-violation, they are often also about defence, namely protecting systems by identifying and strengthening vulnerable areas. It is, in practice, a matter of seeking or protecting sensitive data'.

In the case of the Las Vegas competition, the situation was one of attack. This is what the five teams had to do: ‘We had to violate the security of the satellite in orbit; in other words we had to be able to control it and make it take pictures in the various Red Zones’.

'Technically,' Polino added, 'it was a matter of writing programmes to make the satellite think it was flying over a free zone instead of one of the red zones.

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