If you read the news, go on social media, or exist in the digital world to any degree, cyber security has been a major talking point on every screen you’ve encountered lately. There’s a reason for that. Cyber security threats are increasing at a rapid pace. To be perfectly clear, they always will be an occurrence. For every cybersecurity professional working to close gaps in programming and protect data, there is a hacker working to find ways to infiltrate systems. Think of this as a never-ending game of chess. You may mount a great defense, but the board will reset, and the attack will continue.
This is not unique to the digital world. Criminals have been finding ways to take advantage of victims since time has been recorded. The digital landscape just opens another path for them to pursue. This is something to keep in mind because a great deal of the techniques used in the digital world rely on human error.
For students who want to go into a career in technology, the good news is that there will always be a need for experienced professionals in cyber security. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that this field will grow by 32%, which is much faster than the average rate of job growth. The field is exciting because it constantly challenges you. There are always new techniques to learn.
Cyber security challenges are one big way that students and novices can prepare for and research possible careers in cyber security.
What is a computer security competition?
Computer security challenges are available for every level of expertise. Some are open to professionals while others are geared toward beginners. Many are hosted through colleges and government agencies. These very advanced and competitive challenges often offer high-value prizes but the best advantage to these competitions is that they help competitors develop and advance their skill set to a higher degree than standard education alone.
These competitions allow you to put your skills to use in realistic situations. In some cases, you’ll need to be part of a team in order to participate. In other competitions, you can participate as a single person or the competition places you in a team. The exercises involved in the competition allow you to test your current knowledge and learn new skills.
The idea behind these competitions is that users will learn more from the practical application of their knowledge than they do from studying theories or working in a classroom scenario. There are all different levels of competitions that you can participate in. They offer challenges for age brackets as low as students in grammar school. Other challenges are primarily for advanced users and are often promoted through college and beyond.
Some of the most well-known competitions are hosted by the Department of Homeland Security. In these competitions, students are split into teams. One team is tasked with hacking the other team’s digital properties while the other team is tasked with defending. There are numerous challenges available to help students earn accolades, win prizes, and build their knowledge base.
What is a CTF cyber security competition?
CTF stands for capture the flag. You might be familiar with capture the flag war game simulations that are typically depicted in movies and pop culture about military training. These are actual simulation games that are meant to help soldiers learn to work as a team and develop strategic wartime thinking skills. The same theory is applied in a CTF competition as it relates to cyber security.
Like other cyber security competitions, CTF competitions are available for all different skill levels. Students may participate as a hobby, to improve their skill set, or as a way to deepen their learning to move into a more meaningful study of computer sciences. These competitions are often developed in a way that’s both challenging and fun for the participants.
The skills involved might range from solving simple puzzles or scavenger-hunt type games to attacking or defending your team’s servers. These competitions can be held completely online, or they might be hosted in a specific geographic place so that all of the competitors are physically in the same location. Often the competitions with the highest prizes have everyone involved in the same place. For obvious reasons, it’s easier to verify that the players is using his or her own skillset without any help or interference in person.
CTF cyber security competitions can be used in curriculum for technology courses and are also used for training purposes for businesses.
Skills needed to participate in a cyber security competition
Because there are competitions for every level, you can get started with a fairly limited education in the area. The competitions for the basic level often have limited prizes, if any, but they help to develop the analytical thinking and knowledgebase necessary to advance.
Competitions often focus on building both soft and hard skills. Soft skills include team building and learning how to work with a team. These skills can translate to virtually any field but are extremely useful to those who pursue cyber security as a career path. Each competition has its own rules and participants need to study these guidelines carefully. Some competitions are created for beginners and those who might be considered novices or non-professionals. Other competitions are specifically geared for advanced students and professionals.
In more prestigious competitions with larger cash and other prizes, there is often some threshold to be accepted into the competition. It wouldn’t work well for an exceptionally competitive challenge filled with high-level students to have people who are not equipped for the challenges thrown into the mix, and it would create a negative situation for the less advanced participant.
While these competitions are often well known for the prizes, they also offer a networking benefit for talented students. The competitions are run and attended by industry and government experts and can lead to employment opportunities and career growth for exceptional participants.
Each competition focuses on set tasks and may prioritize certain skills. Some competitions must be entered with a team, often these are teams put together by a school or institution. Other competitions can be entered as a single person. Each contest will often list the various tools that the participant should be familiar with. This helps you assess your ability to compete and gives you some indication of tools that you may need to brush up on.
In most cases, you’ll be tasked with either attacking or defending and the challenges will be timed. The main purpose of these challenges is to help participants advance their knowledge in a lifelike scenario. They offer real-world experience to augment traditional education and prepare future cyber security experts for excellence in their field.
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