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AFNOM's first year as an EPS society has been filled with plenty of adventures! Not only did we continue our relentless pursuit of sharing our love for hacking, but we also participated in Capture The Flag (CTF) competitions in the UK and world-wide, ranking first in the BAE Systems CTF held at the School, and we hosted our very own CTF for the first time!

Keep reading to find out more about our accomplishments and events!

While we are a fairly small community, we pride ourselves on having members from 1st years to research students and to alumni. We continue to grow in numbers and help people develop new skills not taught in the school.

We started off the year with our traditional Linux Install Fest. The event helps people get started with Linux, an open-source operating system which comes in many flavours. Linux Install Fest stands to show AFNOM is not only focused on ethical hacking, but we share experience and expertise in other areas as well. We nurture developing skills where they are not part of the core curriculum, but people are keen to widen their knowledge. While the Linux OS is an ethical hacker's best friend, it is also a widely sought after skill for Computer Science graduates, and we are proud to be filling the gap and helping students enrich their knowledge set!

At the end of January, AFNOM attended the Capture the Flag event organised by BAE. Teams of two to six people attended to solve interesting cybersecurity challenges like web hacking, codebreaking and reverse engineering. We got off to a strong start before launch, with pole positions bouncing between AFNOM's own 'old_reliable' and many of the University's finest, such as the intimidatingly named 'BITCONNEEEECT'. However, after five hours of hard work, we managed to secure the win.

(Another prize for Andreea's wall of fame!)

Here's what two of the glamorous winners had to say about the day, and their favourite challenges:

'BAE CTF was a lot of fun. I mostly worked on the networking forensics challenges. Two of them were particularly interesting, and not like any of the ones I've done in the past - so this was a good opportunity to learn something new. One of them, the easier of the two, involved the analysis of a packet capture which turned out to contain USB traffic from a keyboard. The task involved identifying the string that had been typed on the keyboard. The second challenge was somewhat more puzzling. Again, it involved a packet capture, with identical packets containing only the string "timing is key". The differences in timestamps looked interesting and looking at Wireshark's Input/Output graph revealed a pattern to the messages - the spikes in the graph represented Morse code which contained the flag.'

- Maria

'I'd attended a few of the BAE CTFs before outside of AFNOM and always enjoyed them, and so I was hoping for a strong performance from the team. My favourite challenge was a target clicking game, with 5 levels, starting off easily enough and then throwing you in at the deep end giving you only 0.25 seconds each to click 100 1-pixel targets - no mistakes, eek.  After some misguided attempts to reverse engineer the game, I turned to the Auto Hotkey scripting language to make my own auto-clicker. This was one of the last challenges I solved before the end of the competition, so I was very happy to get it done in time!'

- Connor


HECC is a cyber-security competition for UK Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security. The competition had its first iteration this year, and we were excited to see what we would be challenged with. Two groups set off for the Southampton HECC, one in a packed car and another taking the train. The adventure had begun! We made sure we had plenty of food and rest so that we would be well rested for the competition the next morning.

Southampton University were well prepared for the competition with desks, name badges, T-shirts, hubs extra monitors and lots of biscuits! There was a maximum of four people per team and only two teams allowed, so only eight of the AFNOMers could attend - some difficult choices had to be made! Representing the University we had: two PhD students, one first year, one second year, three third years and one industrial placement student - a good mix of abilities and experiences.

The competition started at 10:30 and the first challenge was hidden in the name badges.  It involved scanning all the badges we could and getting a location to the first flag hidden around the university. It was a fun and unconventional start to a day of challenging cyber security problem solving. Within minutes, team 1 (Old Reliable) were in first place! Don't get excited – we didn't stay there! 

The Capture The Flag competition had a wonderful range of challenges: reversing, network, steg, web, misc, pwning and physical! Reverse engineering challenges in a CTF typically involve talking a compiled program, using tools which will show you the logic of the program, and understanding what the binary does. For many programming languages, recovering the source code from a compiled program is an unattainable task and the best you can do is decompile it to assembly, a low-level symbolic representation of the machine code that the program runs. Pwn challenges rely on reverse engineering binaries and finding vulnerabilities or flaws in the program logic which allow us to trick the program into doing something it was not intended to do, or it is not supposed to do (e.g. printing a secret value, when the program intended to simply print a 'Hello' message!).

Our two teams took different approaches: Team 2 (Monkey See. Monkey Do.) focused on the network and web challenges, they got more flags - but these were lower value. Team 2 (Old Reliable) focused on the hard challenges: reversing and pwning and as a result clocked up lots of points on high value flags. Up until the enforced lunch break Old Reliable solidly remained in the top three!

A couple of challenges really expanded our horizons: one of the challenges required us to intercept a Voice-Over-IP telephone call and listen to the message! Another challenge required us to intercept DMX protocol lighting network traffic. Both concepts were brand-new to us and involved quite a bit of learning (with a bit of help from Google!).

One of our third year students, Louis finished in 7th place individually out of 100 of the best and the brightest from around the UK. What a fantastic achievement! After the competition was over, there was a great meal and an awards ceremony held on campus, where we sat with and got to know the organisers, who'd put in a spectacular amount of effort into making the day run like clockwork.

At the end of the day our two teams finished in 10th and 17th place out of 25 teams. This is a result to be proud of! But it’s not just about where we finished - it’s also about where we started! During the process we learnt many new concepts and ideas - this is something the teams brought back to share with the rest of the AFNOM society. One of the wonderful things about AFNOM is the passion for learning and for sharing that knowledge. All in all, HECC was a great event, it was nice to travel, meet our competition and the organisers face to face and we all learned from the various techniques and tools we'd used during the day.


This year we had the pleasure of hosting our very own Capture the Flag competition! While we’ve represented the University in lots of competitions over the years, this was the first time we’ve run our own event. The day ran from 10:00 to 17:00 with an hour long break in the middle for pizza and snacks.


We had over 50 challenges spread across 9 categories that involved a wide range of cybersecurity challenges including binary exploitation, cryptography, network forensics and pentesting, all of which were custom-made by our own members. Teams of up to four competed to solve as many challenges as possible in order to score points and rise up the scoreboard. Most of the challenges were conventional, traditional challenges; others were a little less so - we had different challenges involving physical puzzle boxes, transliterated Cyrillic text and an obfuscated piece of music.


Everyone who came along had a great time and we were able to share our love of hacking with the entire Computer Science department. Many participants had never had any experience with computer security before, and it was wonderful to be able to introduce so many people to the field. We hope that now we’ve intrigued people, we will see an increase in membership and attendance in 2019-2020. The event was a great success, and we want to make sure that it happens again next year, even better than this year!

If you have enjoyed learning more about computer security, participating in any of the CTF competitions including our very own,  please nominate us for the EPS Societies' Awards and help us celebrate our first year in the EPS Community!