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What are CTFs?

Anusheh Zohair Mustafeez

Introduction

A CTF (short for Capture the Flag Competition) is a gamified computer security competition where players solve information security-related challenges to gain points. Although these competitions don’t involve running around to capture a flag, the underlying concept is the same.

In security CTFs, challengers compete to find a flag (usually a long sequence of characters) using modern hacking techniques.

History

CTFs came into existence in 1993 when DEFCON, the largest cybersecurity conference in the U.S, introduced them as a form of cybersecurity training. Since then, the DEFCON CTF continues to be held every year, luring in top security professionals and students from across the globe.

However, DEFCON isn’t the only one to arrange successful CTFs. Today, there are different CTFs being held all year round for challengers to participate in, including GoogleCTF, PlaidCTF, and Insomni’hack to name a few.

Types of CTFs

CTFs can be categorized into three main categories:

  • Jeopardy-style CTFs: These are the most popular kind of CTFs which involve solving a set of tasks from varying categories such as web exploitation, reverse engineering, cryptography, etc.
  • Attack-defence CTFs: These involve each team being given their own vulnerable server and services. To succeed, teams must find exploits in and attack their opponents’ networks while protecting their own.
  • Mixed CTFs: These can vary in possible formats and are a mix of the Jeopardy-style and Attack-defence competitions.

Benefits of CTFs

In recent years, CTFs have gained a lot of traction amongst the security community due to the wide range of benefits they yield. CTFs are not only a great way to learn employable technical skills in a fun environment, but also allow challenges to enhance their soft skills such as problem-solving, time management, and teamwork.

PicoCTF is one such CTF aimed at introducing security to children in a fun, interactive way. CTFs are also known as useful networking platforms since all kinds of people with the same interests get to gather in one place. Most CTFs also promise cash prizes to winners which add to the many benefits of participating.

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Anusheh Zohair Mustafeez
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