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Let Your Fingers Do The Hacking: TeleChallenge Is On!

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  • Let Your Fingers Do The Hacking: TeleChallenge Is On!

    When I originally created the TeleChallenge (back then known as the Telephreak Challenge), I didn't envision it becoming an official DEF CON contest, nor did I envision it becoming playable or relevant as an entirely remote contest. After all, the prize was admission to the Telephreak Party, a gathering of the truly 1337, and the hardest invitation to score at Hacker Summer Camp.

    My original vision was too small, and my co-collaborators Lion and Licutis helped make it bigger. Together, we have grown the TeleChallenge into one of the toughest puzzles at DEF CON. Every year, we seek to design a contest that is fully deserving of the highly coveted DEF CON black badge. To be clear, it's not our decision whether or not to award a black badge (this rests with The Dark Tangent alone). However, if you win the TeleChallenge, we think you're one of the world's most elite hackers, and so does Telephreak who also recognizes our players. What makes you so elite? The TeleChallenge doesn't require hardcore technical skills. All you need is a phone. It simply requires your hacker brain.

    I want to particularly recognize Lion and his vision, which has allowed the TeleChallenge to continue this year despite DEF CON running in Safe Mode. He's the backbone of the Challenge and while we all help to build the game (I manage creative assets and logistics, and Licutis manages staffing) Lion owns the design, layout and technical components of the puzzle. Since we started working together, he has been absolutely insistent that the entire Challenge be completely playable by phone without needing to be at DEF CON or even in Las Vegas. Lion takes business continuity seriously, and he never wanted to be in a position where the game couldn't run if DEF CON hackers somehow managed to take down every piece of infrastructure within a 3 mile radius of DEF CON. I mean, who knows to what extent hackers might attempt to disrupt the Challenge? A black badge and Telephreak invitation are both (potentially) at stake!

    Obviously, knowing how warm and fuzzy hackers are, I always considered this ridiculous but Lion held absolutely firm: the Challenge would be run remotely, and playable remotely. That's how it is, and that's how it's going to be. "Come on," I'd argue, wanting to do a shiny cool thing that could only be done on site (and if you know me, you know how much I like shiny cool things that can only be done on site). "What do you think is going to happen? A global pandemic?!I" He'd just give me a death stare, cat style. Lion style, actually. My fun shiny idea would be scratched off the board.

    We are building an incredible Challenge for you this year. We hope you play, and even if you don't win, we really hope you have a lot of fun. The Challenge is designed to be played in teams, so we recommend getting a group of friends together to play. All you need is a reliable phone (historically, teams using land lines rather than cell phones have had an advantage, although there is no requirement to use a land line). We'll be posting more here and also check out our Reddit forum (linked from

    If you're new to the TeleChallenge, we posted a detailed walkthrough of the 2018 puzzle here:

    Also, if you are missing getting so many robocalls given that scam call centers are closed amid the pandemic, we posted some for you to enjoy here:

    We'll be posting a walkthrough of last year's puzzle as well, but listening to the 2018 walkthrough will give you a good idea of what you're up against.

    Thank you for playing. We work for nearly an entire year on building an amazing Challenge for you, but all of this work only matters if hackers play it! We always respect the players, and look forward to welcoming you to the 2020 TeleChallenge!
    My Web site is .