The importance of CTFs

January 10, 2022
importance of ctfs

We live in a time of ever increasing cyberattacks. The landscape is constantly changing, and development teams must always be aware of the newest security challenges. In recent years, but particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, virtually every industry has had to embrace new solutions to protect its digital assets. And let’s not forget the role that remote work plays in this shift, especially when it comes to cloud security.
Clearly, having a security team which is reliable, active, and aware is more important than ever before. And your security team needs constant training (especially in secure coding) if they are to keep up with the constantly evolving environment in which cyber attacks happen. Software developers have a critical role here. As digital data transfer becomes increasingly common for businesses of all sizes, security has become an integral element of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
When it comes to writing software and combining it with security threat analysis and product development, an eye for detail and up-to-date knowledge of the threat landscape is a must. This is why development training such as Capture the Flag has become more and more popular.

Capture The Flag: Friendly Competition

While the name ‘Capture the Flag’ actually comes from an outdoor game where kids try to steal another team’s flag, the term made it into the cybersecurity world in 1996 at DEFCON, the largest cybersecurity conference in the United States. Ever since then, CTF has been a staple at the DEFCON security conferences, with a full calendar of events taking place, both online and at physical sites, throughout the year.

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In cybersecurity, CTF events are security-themed competitions in which teams must capture “flags” which are embedded somewhere in purposely vulnerable programs or websites. When a challenge is successfully completed, a “flag” is given to the players, and they submit it to the CTF server in order to earn points. Whichever team achieves the highest score is the winner.
Security CTFs are designed to be educational exercises based on real-life scenarios, and this helps participants build up their knowledge and skills in relevant security areas. Not only have these events shown promising results when it comes to secure coding awareness, but they’re also a great way to have some friendly competition in the workplace, which can pave the way for building stronger teams and better learning processes.

Common Forms of CTFs

The two most common types of CTFs are Jeopardy and Attack-Defense.

Jeopardy CTFs can be divided into several categories:

  • Cryptography – search for different encryption algorithms
  • Reverse Engineering – take compiled code (for example, .exe or .apk files) and try to convert it back into a more readable format
  • Web Security – discover vulnerabilities in web applications
  • Exploitation – exploit a service/binary to find the flag
  • Open Source Cyber Intelligence – use open source tools to collect information

Attack-defense CTFs don’t have as many subcategories. In this type of CTF, each team is given a weak server and has two tasks: attack the other team’s vulnerable app while also protecting their own from being hacked.

What Are Some Advantages of CTF Training?

Hackers are constantly coming up with new and creative ways to access data, so information security analysts have the job of identifying risks before hackers do. They have to think like a hacker and take action before a malicious actor does. This means developing and implementing new preventative security controls for defending against cyberattacks, and as hackers’ skills become more sophisticated, more and more cybersecurity specialists are needed to maintain these advanced security solutions. To improve the overall security awareness of your team, developers need to be on the same page.

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Just a few of the benefits of CTFs are listed below:

  • Competition builds critical thinking skills within your team
  • Participants get first-hand experience with how security breaches can happen
  • Chance to incident response strategies
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Out-of-the-box thinking and creative solutions increasing learning for the teams
  • Teams get their hands dirty in a safe environment and learn from failure
  • It’s fun!

As the benefits above show, it’s no surprise that Capture the Flag events are getting more and more popular. They give developers the opportunity to participate in engaging trainings, and this allows managers to identify security champions who can help the whole team gain valuable knowledge regarding the toughest security challenges out there. The gamification of cybersecurity training eases the learning process, and the competition aspect can motivate your team to improve their cybersecurity skills.
CTF events must be designed to appeal to developers and security experts. Otherwise, the training won’t be relevant, and you won’t see the benefits you’re hoping for. This is why it’s important to be able to track the results of the training, so that you can customize based on the needs of your team.

Host Your Own CTF Event!

The best way to engage your developers in a fun and interactive way is to host your own Capture the Flag event. Depending on your specific needs, you can choose from 150+ Avatao challenges from a variety of difficulties, many of which will equip your team with the skills they need to understand and tackle the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities.
And of course it’s up to you whether you’d like to organize an individual or team CTF, whether you’d like to give prizes to the winners, and how long your competition should run (anywhere from two hours up to one week). Avatao also helps you advertise your event with our custom communication template. It’s time to have fun with security and improve your secure coding today!

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