A CTF event, the acronym for Capture-the-Flag event, is a computer security competition that requires individual and team contestants to solve security-themed tasks.
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Challenges range from basic programming to hacking into a server to steal data. Both software and hardware challenges can be included in CTF events. Contestants may be required to find a specific piece of text or image hidden in the challenge. As the contestant solves these tasks they “capture flags” that boost their score.
CTF events have witnessed a big surge in popularity with an increasing number of applicants every year. Some of the most common types of tasks include cryptography, steganography, web-based challenges. There are different types of CTF events, with some having IT professionals with experience in cyber security, while other events might have amateur talent from high school and college.
There are different formats of CTF events with Attack-Defense and Jeopardy being the most common formats.
With the Jeopardy format, participants face stand-alone problem-solving tasks that yield one flag as a reward for solving the task. In the Attack-Defense format, participants are provided with a range of vulnerable targets with a goal to take down as many targets or flags as possible. CTF event format can also occur in either individual or team-based formats.The participant with the higher number of flags wins the event with most CTF events having a monetary reward for the winner.
CTF events are useful in assessing cybersecurity skills and providing real-life exposure to cybersecurity risks to contestants. An additional benefit of the CTF event is its flexibility as the format can be changed to suit any skill level and focus on any type of cybersecurity theme including offensive and defensive techniques.
Here are two other major benefits of CTF events:
The gamified format of CTF events makes it more engaging for the employees. It has traditionally been a challenge for businesses to motivate their employees to participate in cyber security training. With CTF events, employees are provided with a virtual platform that simulates real-life scenarios.
CTF events allow the development of stronger incident response capabilities, which define how the person will react to different types of cyberattacks. When an organization takes part in the CTF event, it provides an opportunity for its security team to test its incident response in a low-risk environment. A participant from the organization can gain valuable practice in following the organization’s security protocols, tools, and processes in response to a cyberattack.