Capture the Flag (CTF), a TU club which competes in cybersecurity events, is looking forward to participating in a finals competition in November.
The team recently competed in a remote event called CSAW, where they placed in the top 15 teams during an open qualifying round and earned themselves a trip to New York to compete in the closed finals at NYU Poly.
CTF President Gavin Bauer has high hopes for the team this November. “[It’s] probably gonna be our hardest competition for the year, so we’re a bit nervous. It was tough last year. Last year we got 11th out of 15 teams,” he said. “So hopefully this year we’ll do better. Our goal is to get top three.”
Bauer explained that CTF is an offensive competition in which teams will all attack servers in a series of challenges. The challenges are split into various categories.
“There’s a web category, it’s usually ‘become the admin of this website,’” Bauer explained. “There’s cryptography, which is ‘here’s a cypher, break it and tell me what the code is.’ There is exploitation, which is ‘here is a program, make it do something it wasn’t supposed to do.’ And then there’s reverse engineering, which is ‘here’s a program, figure out what it does and then make it do what you want it to do.’ So that’s the competition, and there’s usually a miscellaneous category.”
The first team to complete every event in the competition wins. If no one completes all of the events, the team that completed the most events first wins. Teams of four typically participate in CTF competitions that last 48 hours at a time.
“If you work the full 48 hours, you’re probably gonna be dead at the end of it and not very productive,” Bauer explained with a grin. “So sleeping is a commodity which you have to schedule wisely.”
Bauer said that CTFs are “very loosely organized,” and often remote, meaning that they’re easy to set up and participate in. “A lot of them are pretty lowkey, which is one of the reasons we like them,” he continued.
This also means that TU’s team, despite having formed just two years ago, has been able to hold its own worldwide CTF events. The local competition is called TU CTF and is scheduled to happen in May, the week after graduation.
Despite the competition’s flexible nature, Bauer contended that managing the event can be difficult. “Running it’s kind of a challenge. Not gonna lie. Because you have to prepare while doing finals. That’s why we gave ourselves a week after finals, because you get through finals and then have a week of just madhouse trying to get everything ready.”
Last May, a team from Ukraine won the first TU CTF. Bauer reflected on having to ship prizes worldwide. “I had to figure out U.S. export laws to Ukraine…that was a fun conversation to have,” he chuckled.
Besides hosting their own events and preparing for the CSAW finals, the team also recently won 1st place in CyberSEED at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.
To prepare for competitions, the team goes over past challenges and makes sure they’re up-to-date with the latest programs during their weekly meetings.
Bauer said that familiarity with past challenges is very beneficial to their progress and concluded that “knowing what tools to use, when, and how to use them really well is a big part of competing.” He feels good about the team’s standing this year.
“Last year was our first year of going to these competitions and kind of figuring things out and now we have a solid foundation to actually do well with” he said.
Anyone interested in joining or learning more about CTF is welcomed to attend their weekly meetings in Rayzor Hall at 6:30 on Thursdays.