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A Beginner’s Guide to Capture the flag (CTF) Hacking

As cyber-attacks and data breach incidents have increased in recent years, Cybersecurity is one of the organizations’ top priorities. This has resulted in high demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals in the market. To stay ahead in the continuously evolving information security domain, cybersecurity professionals undergo rigorous training to master the information security skills. Capture the flag (CTF) competitions serve as a great way for aspiring and professional ethical hackers to improve and evaluate their skills in a more fun way.

This article will help beginners understand what the CTF is and how you can prepare for the CTF competitions.

What is CTF?

CTF is an information security contest in which participants are assigned a certain number of tasks to get into the servers and steal an encoded string from a hidden file. This string resembles sensitive information and is known as a flag. Participants capture these flags using their ethical hacking skills and put these flags into the CTF server.

Points are allotted for each flag as per the difficulty level of the tasks—the higher the difficulty level of the task, the more points you will score. The participant or the team scoring the highest points will be the winner of the CTF event. Many information security communities organize these CTF events.

Types of CTF events?
CTF events can be broadly categorized into the following three parts:

  • Jeopardy-style CTF
  • Attack-defense CTF
  • Mixed-syle CTF

Capture the Flag (CTF) Training

Jeopardy-style CTF: In Jeopardy-style, there is either a test or many tasks you have to solve. You need to apply all the information security aptitudes you own to get a bit of encoded string. The next challenges in the series will get unlocked only after the completion of previous ones. Jeopardy-style covers Web, Cryptography, Reverse designing, Pawning, Forensics, Steganography related challenges.

Attack-Defense Style CTF: In Attack-Defense style CTF, two groups are competing with each other. In this, you have to break into other group’s security posture to get the flag while protecting your host machine from the opponents. Before the contest starts, a definite time frame is given to both the groups to identify the vulnerabilities in their systems and fix them. The groups obtain points for infiltration as well as defending against the opponent’s attacks. It requires coordination among team members to score maximum points. This type of event is also known as the Red Team/Blue Team CTF.

Mixed Style CTFs: The mixed style is a blend of both the Jeopardy-style and the Attack-Defense style CTFs. The organizers can set up an attack-defense competition having challenges of different kinds or a jeopardy competition having the attack-defense challenges.

Types of challenges in CTF events?

The thought of mastering all the infosec skills for participating in a CTF contest may look daunting. But you don’t have to master all the skills because a CTF event mainly includes the following challenges:

  • Binary exploitation: To solve these tasks, you need an in-depth knowledge of programming. You have to identify a vulnerability in a program and exploit it to take control of the shell or change the function of the program.
  • Cryptography: These challenges involve converting strings from one format to another or encryption and decryption of ciphertexts to reach out to the flag.
  • Web Exploitation: In these types of challenges, you have to exploit the target machine using exploitation methods such as SQL injection, buffer overflow, and cross-site scripting.
  • Reverse engineering: In these types of challenges, reverse engineering knowledge is required to solve a particular problem. In reverse engineering, you have to convert a compiled code into an easy to comprehend format.
  • Forensics: In these types of challenges, you will be asked to retrieve the executable or flag hidden in different types of files. For example, a flag may be hidden inside manipulated jpg images, registries, memory, and logs.

Capture the Flag (CTF) Training

 Benefits of playing CTFs

Now you understand the type of CTF events and challenges to face during a CTF competition, let’s take a peek at the benefits of taking part in these contests:

  • CTFs are the best way to practice and enhance your information security skills, such as web exploitation, reverse engineering, binary exploitation, forensics, and many more.
  • When you take part in CTF events and compete in groups, it helps you develop a team spirit. Coordination among team members is essential to achieve the target. It also provides you an opportunity to meet like-minded people.
  • CTFs enable you to develop your problem solving and analytical skills to use in real-work scenarios. CTF tasks are usually based on real-world vulnerabilities and security incidents.
  • Nowadays, CTF problems are asked in job interviews to test the skills of professionals. So, taking participation in the CTF contest may help you prepare for the cybersecurity job interviews as well.
  • While playing CTF, you will learn how to handle pressure while honing your ethical hacking skills. You learn new creative ways to solve the problems.
  • CTFs events serve as an opportunity for the white hat hackers to evaluate their skills and get recognition.
  • CTF organizers also provide financial incentives, lucrative prizes to the winners.

Preparing for CTF contests

CTF events are practically based. It requires deep applied knowledge and strong ethical hacking skills to solve CTF problems. You need to strengthen your base in basic programming knowledge and hacking techniques. Following are some tips to prepare for these contests:

  • You can easily discover many online platforms where you can practice jeopardy style CTFs to hone your skills. Make sure you read cybersecurity news daily. This hobby will help you get familiar with the latest vulnerabilities as CTF challenges are often based on them.
  • If you are in school and colleges, the best way to learn new skills and connect with like-minded people is to join cybersecurity clubs. Social media is also a popular way to communicate with CTF players. You can collaborate with them and build your CTF team.
  • Be aware of the ongoing CTF competitions around and participate in the events as much as possible.
  • Get yourself enrolled in an online ethical hacking training course where you can learn the fundamentals of network security and advanced methodologies of penetration testing.

Capture the Flag (CTF) Training

CTF with infosec train

Infosec Train is a leading IT security training provider offering training programs for a range of highly reputed certifications of the information security domain. Infosec Train’s Capture the Flag (CTF) Training is an excellent opportunity to learn industry experts’ ethical hacking skills. CTF training program comprises of various tasks and challenges to polish the problem-solving abilities of candidates. The training emphasizes upskilling their existing knowledge regarding Penetration testing and provides them with hands-on practical experience to enhance their skillset.

Check the latest schedule for the CTF training program in the link provided below:

Shubham Bhatt ( )
Infosec Train
Shubham Bhatt holds a bachelor's degree in computer science & engineering. He is passionate about information security and has been writing on it for the past three years. Currently, he is working as a Content Writer & Editor at Infosec Train.
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