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Organizers of the Honeynet Project's Forensic Challenge are inviting aspiring cyber sleuths to match wits with the perpetrator of a dastardly hack attack on an unnamed Linux machine last November.

Contestants can download intrusion detection system logs from the night of the attack, along with mountable images of the hacked computer's disk drive. Then, by painstakingly analysing the clues left by the intruder, players must uncover such facts as the technique used to crack the system, the type of malicious code that was left behind, and as much as possible about the perpetrator, according to the official rules released Monday by organizer Dave Dittrich, a computer security guru at the University of Washington.

Answers must be in before February 19th. The top-twenty digital detectives, as judged by Honeynet's 30 members, will each win a copy of McGraw-Hill's Hacking Exposed, a $28 value.

The Honeynet Project deliberately scatters vulnerable computers around the Net to lure in "black hat" hackers who then become virtual lab rats, their every move carefully scrutinized and written up in academic research papers.

The Monday launch of the project's first Forensic Challenge coincides with the start of eWeek's third high-profile "Open Hack" competition. Open Hack offers a cash reward of $50,000 to the first person who can penetrate four specially designated systems in a two week period.

That makes playing Sherlock Holmes both less sexy and less potentially lucrative than playing Moriarty, acknowledges intrusion detection expert Martin Roesch, a Honeynet member. "Well, yeah, there's fifty thousand dollars at stake. Hell, I'm thinking of doing it," says Roesch. "But you're far more likely to get a useful experience out of participating in the Forensic Challenge than participating in the Open Hack challenge."

Open Hack is "contrived," while the Forensic Challenge requires the kind of real-life detective work that network administrators, security experts and law enforcement agencies put to use when performing autopsies on hacked computers, Roesch says.

As with other Honeynet endeavours, the perpetrator of the November intrusion was secretly monitored by the project. But the surveillance logs will remain under lock and key until the contest results become public on 19 March.

For now, only one thing is publicly known about the culprit: he or she will not be taking home one of the free books. "The person who hacked the box is not eligible," writes Dittrich.

© 2001 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.

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