Carnegie Mellon Hacking Contest Targets High-School Cybersecurity Talent

 This week, Carnegie Mellon University has launched its third annual online capture the flag (CTF) contest, aimed at introducing computer security skillsets to high and even middle school students.

The free online hacking contests starts March 31, 2017, and ands April 14. While the hacking contest is open to all who register and participate, schools students in grades 6-12 are eligible for monetary prizes up to $30k. The university has stated that some 30,000 people have participated in previous editions of the CTF contest.

“Right now, we’re facing a tremendous shortfall in computer security experts,” says David Brumley, project lead for picoCTF, the director of CyLab and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university. “The root of the problem is that most people don’t even know that computer security is a field they can go into. Building awareness is a major goal of picoCTF.”

Beginning March 31, participants will go through a series of training routines, learning to ‘reverse engineer, break, hack, decrypt’ and anything else necessary to solve a series of challenges relevant to a specific storyline. Challenges begin easy before becoming progressively difficult as the competition carries on.

Critical thinking skills are fundamental and key, according to Professor Brumley.

“We lead you throughout the game to develop more and more sophisticated notions of computer security so that by the end, you’re solving real world crypto problems and performing at a high level,” the professor stated.

The competition is also open-sourced, enabling teachers to conduct their own distinct version of the competition if they choose to do so. The move has already benefited high schools who have crafted their own versions of the CTF contest to introduce ‘thousands more K-12 students’ to computer security.

Image credit: Flickr.