Updated: Jun 9, 2020
From 2016: For whatever reason, cyber competitions have been on my mind. So, I thought that I should share my experience as well as provide a few resources to those on the fence about participating in these cyber competitions.
Cyber competitions are a great way to gain valuable hands-on experience in various areas of cybersecurity such as pentesting and digital forensics. There are various types of competition in a few different varieties: Challenge-based, where you answer questions/challenges to gain points; Attack-Defend, where you must defend your 'castle' while trying to attack others; and Wargames which are online CTF competitions.
My first competition was back in 2013 with Cyberjutsu Women at the Global Cyberlympics, a competition hosted world-wide by EC-Council. This competition is an online team-based competition consisting of 3 qualifying rounds (Forensics, Penetration Testing, and Computer Network Defense (CND)) and a final round (Capture the Flag) usually hosted at the annual HackHalted conference.
Going into this competition, I had no freaking clue what to expect or even how to begin. The team consisted of 6 women lead by Lisa Jiggetts, the founder, CEO, and head Cyber Ninja for Women's Society of Cyberjutsu. We went into a conference room and immediately started the first round. We weren't organized and none of us knew what was going on but we trekked through it, together.
See with this competition, you can only have one person logged into the scoring server which meant that this person either had to perform all the tasks for each round or we had to figure out a way to collaborate quickly and efficiently to get the points. Even though we started off scrambling, by the end of round 1 we had found our groove and started racking up the points. Mind you, Lisa was the SME of the group and she had to provide a lot of insight.
I was scared because I didn't want to fail but was relieved to know that we were a team. We advanced to the next round. By the end, we all walked out of the room a little bit smarter and with ideas to help with round 2.
Fast forward a few weeks, we made it past round 2 but not without a few bumps in the road. I think round 2 was harder than the 1st one and for good reason. EC-Council wanted to make sure that people knew what they were doing. We spent that Saturday afternoon moving through challenges and troubleshooting and praying we get enough points to advance to the finals. When we recieved news that we made it to the final competition, we were beyond ecstatic. We were the only all women team (All cyberjutsu competition teams are all women) to advance to the final competition. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Final event due to work, but I learned a lot about myself and my love for this field. We all love a little challenge here and there. And, the prizes are definitely a motivator to participate in these types of games.
For me the Global Cyberlympics was the start of something great. Participating in and winning competitions gives you confidence in your skills and boosts your ego a little bit. Although, I haven't won a competition, I have participated in a few of them each year (both on a team and individually). They are a lot of fun. You learn a lot of things by doing them. If you are interested in participating in these games but don't know where to start, don't fret. There are numerous resources available to help you get your feet wet and prep for success. Some of my favorite individual games include SANS Netwars (paid), OverTheWire (free, online), and Enigma Group (free, online). These games force you to research topics and try new things, some of which can be used in the real-world depending on the job that you do. Some of these competitions are even at various conferences and are free to participate in.
So, get to it and start refining your skills!
For more information or to participate in team based competitions, join the WSC Competition Group at www.womenscyberjutsu.org
Additional links with good information:
ctftime.org - lists competitions going on around the world and you can join teams
Capture the Flag Competitions - Basic info on CTF's as well as different ones for each type