7 reasons why you should start playing CTFs5 min read

“Start playing CTFs now!” is what I wish someone has told me a few years ago! In this article I will present you 7 reasons why you should start playing CTFs right now. If you are not familiar with CTFs the following articles will help you.

[What the heck is a Capture the flag (CTF)?]

[CTF Categories]

[The history of CTFs]

1) Explore a whole new world

Usually your first CTF experience can be summed up to “1st try – 1st disappointment”.
Don’t worry though. It is very common for people who have never participated in a CTF competition again to be dominated by the fear of failure, be concerned about the lack of knowledge and skills required for participation and the fear of high competition from rival players or groups with more experience.
The first participation in a CTF competition is the most difficult for newcomers.
A bad experience can lead to wrong conclusions.
Failing is accepted, giving up is not! Your first CTF participation is of great importance as it opens the way for the desire to participate in more competitions as well and getting better and better.
Try harder! You will hear that a lot in this journey. Keep that in your mind.

2) Confidence boost

In a really competitive and fast changing research field as Information Security, your knowledge and skills are tested everyday.
Failure is a really common thing, especially if you are a novice.
The confidence of those who participated at least in one CTF competition seems to increase rapidly as they are finally able to prove that their are capable of solving complex problems and the captured flags prove it!
But don’t get too excited. Being confident is good but learning never ends.

3) CTFs are fun (Most of the times)

Usually CTFs are fun to participate and play. You test your skills, you learn new things, meet and socialize with people that share the same passion with you and most importantly you solve interesting and challenging problems.
Many CTFs even include storytelling and gamification elements to make the game even more interesting.
A scoreboard is always present which increases the element of beneficial and healthy competition.
You can play as an individual but playing in a team is even better! Its more fun, you socialize, it rapidly increases the sense of collectivity and teamwork while trains you to work with people from different backgrounds, different culture and level of skills. This experience is really important for your career that no book can teach you.
Most of the CTFs give you the opportunity to buy hints and get help in case you face a deadend in a challenge and even include Easter eggs with bonus points and challenges.

TL;DR Studying is hard (at least for me) and especially if I have to study from a book or take a boring lecture. The best things about playing CTFs is that they teach you things that you cannot learn from a book and they do it in a really fun way.

4) You simply get better

Practice, practice, practice.
By participating in a CTF competition, you enhance your skills that you have previously acquired by having the opportunity to use them legally in a controlled and secure environment that is able to realistically simulate real-world conditions. In that way, participants are expected to improve their skills and acquire new useful practical skills that traditional teaching methods are usually unable to provide.

5) Sharpen you understanding of theoretical concepts

You might be an expert in theoretical cryptography but how about applied cryptography or even more specifically using that knowledge in a real world scenario. As I mentioned above about the improvement of your practical skills, the principle applies here in the understanding of theoretical concepts that have been taught, however, they still remain kinda obscure. Participating in a CTF contest and tackling a real problem based on the theoretical concept you have previously studied is an ideal way to understand it better through a real interactive example.

6) Find a real job in InfoSec

Participating in CTF competitions reduces the occupational retirement gap in the field of security and helps newcomers to break through the Security Industry and start a successful career.

By participating in a CTF competition, participants deal with real world situations and they are challenged to solve real problems of staggering difficulty. CTFs provide a controlled and secure environment that is capable of simulating realistic conditions that may have several similarities to those faced by security professionals in their day-to-day tasks. The participants use real tools and follow similar methodologies that are widely used in the market, face real challenges and coming closer to start thinking as security professionals. Finally, it is really common for security companies to attend and sponsor CTFs so that their recruitment representatives contact those who stand out in the competitions resulting in a possible interview or even a hire.

7) “Don’t panic, we can do this”

Participating in a CTF competition (especially in an Attack & Defense type, read more about CTF categories [here]) increases the participants’ self-confidence about dealing with serious security incidents in the real world in a calm, professional and effective way.

It is very common for young IT professionals not to be able to cope effectively with the first security incidents they will have to deal with as they are overwhelmed by anxiety and panic.
Such a situation could arise after statements such as «We are under attack», «There has been a violation of our systems», «Our systems are not available»….. FIX IT!
By participating in CTFs the participants feel more confident about their skills and are well prepared to face a real event without panicking after having spent some time in a realistic but controlled environment where it has helped them become familiar with corresponding to similar scenarios.

So what are you waiting for! Go play some CTF!

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