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Capture the Flag (CTF) Hacking for Beginners


Capture the Flag (CTF) Hacking for Beginners

What is Capture the Flag (CTF)?

Capture the Flag (CTF) is majorly a type of virtual environment-based setup where the overall machine has intentional bugs and the CEH (certified ethical hackers) use the following environment to sharpen their skills of catching the vulnerabilities of a given domain or IP. Hackers are allowed some level of access within the network so that they can perform a specific “scavenger hunt” via the process of simple and complex programming.

In other words, you can say Capture the flag (CTF) are friendly competitions designed for hackers to practice real-life-like scenarios. So they use genuine tools to find any kind of vulnerabilities and then exploit them later to “catch” the encoded string. Within this topic, there are different types of CTF events such as:-

What types of Capture the Flag (CTF) events exist?

CTF events are mainly classified into three categories:

  • Jeopardy-style CTF
  • Attack defense CTF
  • Mixed type CTF

Jeopardy-style CTF

This specific type has some basic questions in form of tasks that range within various perspectives of cyber security. Hackers in this type of competition gain points in teams for each successful task completion. The tasks are designed in such a way that they can be unlocked only after the previous task has been correctly submitted. Some of the most famous CTFs of this type are Defcon CTF quals and vulnversity by tryhackme.

Attack defense CTF

This type of CTF type allows teams to have their own network (or maximum one host of that particular network) which has multiple vulnerabilities present within them. Then the team has to simultaneously defend their own weak network and develop exploits for the opponent teams as well. There are points for both of the activities individually (defend and attack). In simpler words, this can be considered a “virtual war game” between teams.

Mixed type CTF

Some of the events are made out of mixing the two major types of CTFs in order to increase the complexity and competition as they can touch multiple aspects of infosec like reveres engineering, binary analysis, and much more!

Advantages of Capture the Flag (CTF) Events

There are multiple advantages of CTF solving if you are in the fields of ethical hacking and cyber-security. Some of the major advantages are as follows:-

  • Effectiveness- this type of approach for learning and increasing abilities has proven itself to be one of the most effective ways to grow.
  • Awareness- even for the best of the ethical hackers, CTF is a great way for them to be up to date with the latest trends which are very crucial for their profession.
  • Skill enhancement- one can always use CTF competitions to get better at whatever level they are present. Other skills like logical thinking and analytical thinking get sharpened too.
  • Recognition- CTF events and competitions are a great platform for CEH to outshine in order to gain fame and recognition. This can also make career paths for beginners in this field.

Criteria of judgement

Just like any other competition, Capture the flag (CTF) events are run by some important criteria which help the organizers with the framework of the event. every event has its custom rules but some of the general ones are as follows-

  • Entry requirements- basic information like age, gender, qualifications, etc.
  • Diversity- multi-ethnic and gender-balanced team.
  • Challenge formats- the points are allotted on the basis of the nature of the challenge provided.
  • Teamwork- teams are allotted special points in some of the CTF for outstanding coordination and team spirit.

Types of formats

As discussed before, the challenge format can differ from each other. This is done to sharpen a specific stream of hacking in particular. Some of the most witnessed areas of focus are as follows-

  • Exploitation- format will force the team to decide what kind of exploitation will suit the discovered vulnerability in the running process of the targeted machine.
  • Programming- These types of tasks basically require a particular skill set of programming to solve or move ahead in the challenge in most of the events it's often mixed with reverse engineering.
  • Reverse engineering- this format is highly common as the challenge will make team go backward (just like a team getting an executable from the server)
  • Crypto- This format specializes in the popular attack type ransomware (malware) as it also features the “realistic scenarios” of the world.

Preferred operating systems

A number of CTF(capture the flag) can be found on the internet which can be solved easily via web browsers. But some of the operating systems are specifically designed for hacking purposes only and it’s always better to have an edge on OS. One of the most outshined OS for these events can be kali Linux as it is genuinely packed with tons of tools. It also has very basic and easy installation processes that require minimal time. Apart from this, other comfortable OS can be Ubuntu and Debian.

Conclusion

To conclude, Capture the flag (CTF) is the best way possible for ethical hackers of any level to develop, increase and maintain their respective skills in various methods of hacking. One can always query Google if they get stuck with anything in the middle of the process so that you don’t get stuck without assistance. CTF events are great places to meet other security professional information enthusiasts and provide great opportunities to connect, develop your skills in a safe environment, and have fun while doing so. In some cases, the prizes are given to the winner of the CTF event and that can be very good to highlight if you are looking for a job in the InfoSec field.

Author

Shubhit Kulshrestha (Cybersecurity Intern)

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