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3rd Signal Intelligence Challenge “Catch them if you can!” by IEEE Student Branch Karlsruhe & Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

In Fall 2016, the 3rd IEEE Signal Intelligence Challenge took place in Karlsruhe. The event was organized by the IEEE Student Branch Karlsruhe in cooperation with the Communications Engineering Lab and the research group Cryptography and IT Security at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The challenge especially addressed students with a focus on communications, cryptography, and software defined radio (SDR). Its goal was to foster exchange between students of electrical engineering and computer science as well as to motivate them to apply their classroom knowledge in a practical scenario to acquire hands-on experience.

In this year, the theme of our challenge was related to investigating a fictitious bank robbery. The teams of two to four students had to receive, decode and decrypt radio signals in order to reveal information about the criminals’ objectives.

We were very happy to have as many as 30 participating teams, almost three times as many as in 2015. Many of them being first-time SDR users, they successfully used DVB-T based as well as more advanced SDR receivers in order to receive the signals. Digital signal processing was mostly done in Python, MATLAB and GNU Radio. But most importantly, the students showed their creative problem solution skills in decoding the secret transmissions.

The information was encrypted and modulated in various ways, one example being a direct sequence spread spectrum transmission carrying an encrypted e-mail. Due to a defective PGP implementation, the participants were able to break the encryption and thus retrieve important details about the location of the bank to be robbed.

We must say, that the students exceeded our highest expectations by solving even the most difficult tasks! The best teams got rewarded with gadgets, technical literature, and as main prizes high fidelity SDR hardware. This was made possible by our generous sponsors: Ettus Research, Rohde & Schwarz, and the IEEE Germany Section.

We look forward to organizing the 4th Signal Intelligence Challenge in 2017! Feel free to contact us, if you want to bring the challenge to your university!