Battle over tech recruits gets explosive: Israeli company asks applicants to dismantle bomb

Candidates must overcome a series of online and physical world challenges to be considered for job at a leading Israeli tech company.

By Elihay Vidal, Calcalist

The battle over Israeli tech talent is getting fiercer every day, forcing recruiting companies to come up with more creative and aggressive tools to capture the attention of potential employees. Complex riddles, thought challenges, and assignments that would be fitting for the plot of a Hollywood action movie have become standard in the cutthroat Israeli tech HR arena.

Now, IT company Matrix is pushing the envelope even further by challenging applicants with a life-saving task: neutralizing a physical bomb that is planted in an office somewhere in central Israel, with a timer constantly ticking backwards.

Matrix Cyber R&D Labs’ CTF (capture the flag) challenge calls on developers to dismantle a ticking time bomb in a challenge that combines the virtual and physical space. A webcam is constantly recording the room the bomb is located in and the clock counting backwards to the moment of explosion.

Numerous trials before the bomb

Applicants must complete a series of eight technological puzzles at a rising level of difficulty, which requires them to investigate an app in a suspicious mobile device, locate and neutralize dangerous data breaches, decode encrypted messages and more.

Participants will be required to chase down a secret agent and even take part in a private party during which they will have to stop a villain threatening the central tech hub city of Herzliya. Every level features an additional clue that enables them to reach the next stage, until reaching the final one, when they are given the opportunity to take part in a race against time to prevent the bomb from going off.

Those that manage to complete all the challenges will compete for a position at Matrix Cyber R&D Labs. In a previous quiz the company conducted last year, the rate of success was one in 200, with only two “lonestar agents” found to be suitable and recruited to jobs in the research lab. The same two were the ones to design this year’s challenge.

According to Elad Beber and Or Bar-on, security researchers at Matrix and among those that designed the puzzles, “in order to make it onto the technological dream team we work in, candidates must show that they have something special about them, a unique way of thinking, one that only people with technological skills posses.”

They said that candidates don’t have to come from a programming background in order to complete the challenge and that things like age and gender don’t play a factor in being accepted to the job.

The skills that are needed to complete the challenge include reverse engineering, forensics, cryptography, vulnerability exploitation, and creative thinking. The time-bomb challenge takes place in virtual space, but also physically in Herzliya.

Those who succeed in solving the puzzles will make things in the room change in real time, things like the color of light bulbs, switching on electronic devices and more. The changes correspond to additional clues to puzzles that need to be cracked to make it to the next stage.

‘Not just a game’

“The CTF challenge is not just a game, There is a whole culture around it, which reflects the culture at Cyber R&D Labs. It combines creativity, innovation, outside-the-box thinking, facing complex challenges and more,” Uriel Zilberberg, Security Research Team Leader at Matrix Cyber R&D Labs, said.

“The challenge teaches participants how to work with technologies and systems they may not have used before. In order to meet the challenge you’re required to possess a bold spirit, creativity, and the ability to overcome limitations and succeed at something while someone else is trying to stop you. It is a battle that’s based on improvisation, offensive strategy and most of all, perseverance,” he said.

The company refused to share what the salary of the successful candidates would be, but the information security sector is one of the fastest-growing fields in Israel, and according to a salary chart published by SQLink, the opening monthly salaries for such positions is between NIS 12,000-14,000 ($2,700-$4,300) and in the long term can reach up to NIS 26,000, roughly double the average salary in Israel.

Matrix Cyber R&D Labs deals with projects that are at the forefront of the security, cyber protections, and AI sectors. The group is made up of people from a range of advanced research disciplines and is currently expanding its scope and bolstering its team in an array of fields.

Matrix employs 11,000 people and is a technological and strategic partner in strategic consulting and integration projects, development and application of innovative technologies, and organizational applications in online, mobile, and legacy systems. Matrix is traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and its 2019 revenues stood at NIS 3.6 billion ($1.1 billion).