Last month, picoCTF, which over the course of nearly a decade has become the world’s largest online hacking competition, held its 2021 competition. Nearly 15,000 people from over 130 countries around the world competed in the annual two-week competition, which ran March 16-30.
“The skills taught in this competition are essential not only to future cybersecurity professionals, but to anyone living in today’s digital society,” said CyLab’s Hanan Hibshi, research and teaching scientist in the Information Networking Institute and a faculty advisor to picoCTF. “This competition has given thousands of people a fun and approachable way to learn and hone their cybersecurity skillset.”
This competition has given thousands of people a fun and approachable way to learn and hone their cybersecurity skillset.Hanan Hibshi, research and teaching professor, Information Networking Institute
During the two-week competition, participants were tasked with solving up to 88 cybersecurity challenges. Those challenges, designed to mimic real-life cybersecurity problems, were created by Carnegie Mellon’s internationally-acclaimed competitive hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning.
Challenges started off easy, allowing students with little or no experience to get started, but gradually increased in difficulty, eventually testing even the most experienced hackers. If participants became stuck, they could access nuggets of clues on how to solve a particular challenge or attempt similar challenges in the picoGym, the non-competitive environment within the picoCTF platform where users practice various cybersecurity skills.
The challenges themselves were housed in an outer space-themed video game with a unique storyline, designed by students in Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. Solving particular challenges unlocked other parts of the game’s virtual world.
Prizes were awarded to the top 10 US-based middle and high school teams.
This year’s top 10 teams consisted of players from California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. The winning team, “lightgoldenrodyellowpwn,” solved all 88 challenges over the course of 1 day, 9 hours.