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What is CTFs (Capture The Flag)

  • Last Updated : 21 Nov, 2019

With the ever-rising need for cybersecurity experts, there has never been a better time to become an ethical hacker. If you have ever grown up wanting to be a hacker, now is the time to start working on your dream. Companies hire ethical hackers to find and patch up security flaws in their systems, so as to prevent cybercriminals from being able to hack them.

So How can one become an ethical hacker? While the process involves certification exams to prove your skills as a hacker, CTFs provide a way to understand the basics of computers and networking and put your skills into action.

What is CTF (Capture The Flag) ?
A CTF stands for Capture the Flag, a game in which players put their skills to practice to solve problems or break into an opponent’s system. Below are different types of CTFs –

  • Jeopardy style: In this variant, players solve certain problems to acquire “flags”(a specific string of text) to win.
  • Attack-Defence: In this type, two teams are created- Red Team (which tries to breach the system) and Blue Team (which tries to defend the system).

What takes place in a CTF?
In this post, we will talk about Jeopardy-style CTF since it is the most beginner-friendly. In a CTF, the CTF server hosts problems which upon solving reveals a “flag”. A flag is a string of text which needs to be entered into the website to show that you have solved the CTF.

What is required to participate in a CTF?
Most CTFs are free and only require the participant to signup. Some skills required to start:

1. Basic Computer Knowledge
2. Basic Programming Skills
3. Basic Networking Skills
4. Creative Problem Solving Skills
5. Know how to research

Common Challenge Types –

  • Cryptography – Usually involves decrypting or encrypting a piece of data
  • Steganography – Involves finding information hidden in files or images
  • Binary – Reverse engineering or exploiting a binary file
  • Web Exploitation – Exploiting web pages to find the flag
  • Pwn – Exploiting a server to find the flag.

Why should one take part in a CTF?
The best part about a CTF is that you can start with a basic knowledge base and advance your knowledge and skills as you progress further. Most players actively learn about new terminologies and technologies when they research online to understand the technology behind the problem or find a way to efficiently solve that kind of problem.
Another reason to take part in a CTF is that you get to know more people as you compete against each other or collaborate to solve that one problem outside your area of expertise. This helps build your social skills as you learn to communicate and collaborate with others as a team, a skill many employers seek in potential employees.

Last but not least, the challenges are fun as you race to find a creative solution to that one problem or scavenge through the Internet trying to find if someone solved a similar problem before. Due to the interesting features and problems that are added, CTFs never get stale and help you learn new things about the cybersecurity field.

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