What’s a Challenge Coin, Anyway? (For Hackers)

So what are these “challenge coins”?

Challenge coins come from an old military tradition that bled into the professional infosec realm then into the broader hacker community through the continual overlap between the communities. In some ways like an informal medal, coins generally represent somewhere you have been or something you have accomplished. Consequently, you can buy some, and be gifted or earn others; the latter are generally more traditional and respected.

There are a few stories about how challenge coins originated in the U.S. Military and most have been lost to history and embellished over time, but I will tell you the tale as it was passed down to me:

During World War I, an officer gifted coin-like squadron medallions to his men. One of his pilots decided to wear it about his neck as we would wear dog tags, today. Some time later, that pilot’s plane was shot down by the enemy and he was forced down behind enemy lines and captured. As a prisoner of war, all of his papers were taken, but as was customary he was allowed to keep his jewelry, including the medallion. During the night, the pilot managed to take advantage of a distraction to make a daring escape. He spent days avoiding patrols and ultimately made his way to the French border. Unfortunately, the pilot could not speak any French, and with no uniform and no identification, they assumed he was a spy. The only thing that spared him execution was showing them his medallion, upon which there was a squadron emblem the French soldiers recognized and could verify.

Today, people who collect challenge coins tend to have quite a few more than just one.

What’s the “challenge”?

Challenge coins are named such because anybody who has one can issue a challenge to anybody else who has one. The game is a gamble and goes as such:

  • The challenger throws down their coin, thereby issuing a challenge to one or more people.
  • The person or people challenged must each immediately produce a coin of their own.
  • If any of the people challenged cannot produce one coin, they must buy a drink for the challenger
  • If the people challenged all produce coins, the challenger must buy the next round of drink(s) for them.

Therefore, a wise person carries a coin in a pocket, wallet, or purse, at all times!

How do I get challenge coins?

As I mentioned before, the three major ways to get a challenge coin in the military and in the hacking community are to buy one, earn one, or be gifted one.

  • You can buy coins at many places and events to show you were there. Many cons sell them now, as well as places like military installations and companies. They’re a good fundraiser.
  • You can be gifted a coin. This is normally done as a sign of friendship or gratitude, and the coins gifted are normally ones that represent a group or organization like a military unit, company, non-profit, or government agency. The proper way to gift a coin is enclosed in a handshake.
  • You can earn a coin. Many competitions and training programs offer special coins for top graduates, champions, and similar accomplishments (similar to a trophy). This is the most traditional way to receive a coin.

How do I display my coins, once I have more than one?

On a coin rack or coin display case. https://www.amazon.com >>

Can I make my own challenge coins? How much do they cost?

Yes. Lots of companies will sell you challenge coins. The price varies drastically based on the number ordered, colors, materials, and complexity of the vector design.

Think about whether you plan to sell coins to people, gift them on special occasions, or make them a reward, and plan accordingly.

Can I see some examples of infosec / hacking challenge coins?

Sure! I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to challenge coins. Here are some of my friends and their favorite challenge coins:






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