UCSB’s iCTF: 20 years strong, securing minds worldwide.

January 1, 2024
1 min read

UCSB’s iCTF security competition celebrates 20 years

  • UC Santa Barbara’s International Capture the Flag (iCTF) hacking competition celebrated its 20th anniversary from Dec. 2-8.
  • This year, the competition opened a separate competition for high school students in addition to university students participating.

UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Computer Science hosted the 20th annual iCTF hacking competition from December 2-8, 2023. The event, which is one of the largest educational security competitions in the world, celebrated its milestone year in a unique way by introducing a separate competition for high school students. This expansion was made possible by the university’s newly established AI Institute for Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation (A.C.T.I.O.N.) and the Women in Computer Science chapter. The A.C.T.I.O.N. Institute, funded by the National Science Foundation, brings together experts from 11 institutions to enhance the protection of mission-critical systems from security threats.

Teams comprising no more than 10 participants, including both university and high school students, competed in a jeopardy-style challenge-based competition. The objective was to compromise the security of the competition’s challenges and capture the virtual flag. The challenges included tasks such as analyzing files and breaking into servers to steal the flag. Each completed challenge earned teams points, and the team with the highest score at the end of the competition emerged as the winner.

The iCTF competition provided participants with an opportunity to learn and develop their hacking skills. Giovanni Vigna, professor of computer science at UCSB and director of the A.C.T.I.O.N. Institute, emphasized the educational aspect of the competition, stating that participants can learn more by doing rather than just reading papers. The competition not only tested participants’ technical skills but also fostered team collaboration and problem-solving abilities.

Looking ahead, Vigna envisions further growth for the iCTF competition. He plans to create a multilevel competition in the style of an escape room, where participants must solve one challenge to progress to the next. This approach aims to provide an immersive and engaging experience for participants and further enhance their learning.

The iCTF competition has become a staple in the cybersecurity community, attracting participants from around the world. By introducing a separate competition for high school students, UCSB aims to engage younger individuals in the field of cybersecurity and promote the gamification of learning. The success of the iCTF competition over the past 20 years highlights the growing importance of cybersecurity education and the need for continuous skill development in the field.

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