CS&E Student Cracks IBM’s Vault

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November 19, 2018

Congratulations go out to Department of Computer Science and Engineering student Andrey Rainchik for winning a trip to Boston and placing third in The IBM Vault game, a worldwide interactive hacking contest hosted by the computer giant.

In order to qualify for the trip, Rainchik had to be among the top 75 participants to solve six different puzzles, called “locks”.  Rainchik competed with over 3,000 participants in the qualifying stage of the game and placed 14th overall.

Solving each lock took a combination of logic, analytical, and computer science skills.  He explains his entire process for solving each problem on GitHub, but it’s safe to say these were not your typical Sudoku puzzles.

For one of the problems, Rainchik was given the following extensive series of numbers and letters:

5833372e32313130343936582d3132312e383037303834315833302e34303138333935582d39372e373135353130335834322e3336363531353739393939393939582d37312e3037373231393039393939393938582d32322e39353034383739582d34332e31373730333537303030303030335833352e3637383533333420583133392e37383730383532393939393939345835332e34313838343235582d362e34313833393734

On his GitHub site, Rainchik says he did not see a random string of numbers and letters like your average person, but “noticed that the string included hex digits with the printable ASCII range, so I ran it through a hex-to-ASCII converter.”

What this means is that he recognized that the series of numbers and letters was a form of computer encoding called hexadecimal that could be translated to a more human readable encoding called ASCII.  This led him to track down an online translator which delivered him the following results:

X37.2110496X-121.8070841X30.4018395X-97.7155103X42.36651579999999X-71.07721909999998X-22.9504879X-43.17703570000003X35.6785334 X139.78708529999994X53.4188425X-6.4183974

Rainchik was able to make sense of this mess of computer glyphs as well, saying, “These stood out to me as being possible coordinates, so I separated them into pairs.”

Even after separating them into pairs, the results do not look like the typical latitude-longitude coordinates you would see on your average globe.  Here’s an example of what he came up with:

X37.2110496
X-121.8070841

Rainchik input these pairs into an online map and discovered that they were in fact coordinates for a number of IBM research centers around the world.

“On a whim, I input these cities as the key, and it worked!”

That combination of logical and creative thinking is what got Rainchik to the final competition at IBM Cambridge. There, he and the other finalists had to hack into different IBM computers, and then prevent others from also hacking in.  This was an area that Rainchik happened to also excel in.

“I got third since I’ve been doing that same sort of thing on my own time,” he said.

To read how Rainchik solved all the qualifying locks, visit his GitHub page.  For more details on The IBM Vault game, visit their website.

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