Let them hack it: Hacking competition preparing kids for high-tech cyber careers


Across the U.S., there a critical shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals. As computing systems continue to proliferate in our personal and professional lives, the need for specialists that can identify and protect against cyber threats will only continue to grow.

Within the Indiana Uplands region, cybersecurity and cyberinfrastructure professionals are also in high-demand with many high-paying, high-tech jobs left unfilled. To help grow our future cybersecurity workforce, we need to expose more kids to responsible computer security and engineering skills at younger ages.

We need to teach kids how to hack! One way to get started is with the picoCTF challenge.

2017 picoCTF prize winners

Called the largest hacking competition in the world, the picoCTF, or “Capture the Flag” challenge is a free, online game developed for middle & high school students by computer security experts at Carnegie Mellon University. Over 50,000 students from more than 1,000 schools have participated in this challenge since 2013. This year’s picoCTF challenge starts September 28 and runs through October 12, 2018.

The game consists of a series of challenges centered around a unique storyline. Participants explore on their own and must reverse engineer, break, hack, decrypt, or do whatever it takes to solve the challenge. Students and teachers do not need to have any experience in programming or cybersecurity to play. The challenges start out easy for beginners and gradually build up in difficulty as you learn, eventually simulating real-life cybersecurity problems.

Students will be able to log in to the game at any time and spend as much or as little time as they like during the two weeks challenge. While only students are eligible for cash prizes, the picoCTF challenge is open to anyone who wants to get started in information security and teachers are encouraged to play along with students.

The goal of the competition is to grow interest in computer science and responsible hacking among more young people.

“We need to recognize that hackers are valuable. They find vulnerabilities in order to make systems more secure. They do this by developing a unique mindset — the hacker mentality — of learning to think differently, being curious, and always experimenting. And those who practice their skills become artists at figuring out creative solutions that prevent criminals from succeeding. Given today’s cyber threats, we need to embrace hacking as an essential skill for kids to learn in order to keep this country safe in the future.”

-David Brumley, professor of computer and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

Students & teachers from Bloomington, Bloomfield, Mitchell and Loogootee participated in the Cybersecurity Capture The Flag Spring Training Camp on May 12 at Indiana University. This event, sponsored by Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc. & IU School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, helped prepare teams for the picoCTF competition this fall. Photo courtesy of The Herald-Times, read full story.

After the 2018 competition, the picoCTF site will remain active so students can play the game anytime and continue learning throughout the year.

How to get started: Download picoCTF posters to help promote the challenge at your school! Visit www.picoCTF.com and check out FAQs on the 2018 competition.

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