HackBack - a Virtual CTF Event for University Students

Context Information Security is supporting HackBack 2, a virtual CTF event aimed at university students. In this guest blog post, Ben Spring and Ashu Savani, the creators of the event and the TryHackMe platform who originally met while interning at Context Information Security in 2018, tell us more about the event, how it all started, why their platform is so unique and what their plans are for the future.

After interning together at Context in 2018, Ben is now in the final year of university studying Computer Science, with over two years industrial experience within the Cyber Security Field. Ashu has just finished a Computer Science degree at UCL and is now working at Context as a Junior Consultant.

With our combined experience, we both saw that the cyber security learning space was fragmented and existing solutions just offered approaches with no prior guidance, focusing purely on self-learning. This is when we decided to develop our own interactive platform TryHackMe, which makes it easier for people to teach and learn Cyber Security.

TryHackMe combines guided theoretical and practical approaches to ensure that users learn fundamental concepts in security that can be applied to real-world scenarios. The platform focuses on accessibility by allowing users to learn through virtual rooms. Users can also deploy their own deliberately vulnerable machines in the cloud and access other materials such as downloadable files while reinforcing their learning by answering guided questions.

With over 80 public challenges/courses and a quickly growing community, TryHackMe makes users' experience as seamless as possible by:

  • Allowing users to launch their own Kali machine in their browser instead of struggling to set up and gain access to an environment with the right tools.
  • Having cloud based infrastructure, to scale on demand.
  • Having the ability for users to clone our courses, repurpose them and then distribute it to their own audience.

To raise awareness about Cyber-security and to allow individuals to gain beginner-level experience, our platform runs a University capture the flag (CTF) competition. There are 6 categories of cyber security questions designed for all skill levels. Universities can split themselves into teams of up to 4 people and compete to answer the most questions. Each question is worth points and the University team that has the most points wins. 

We first ran the CTF in March which proved to be very successful with 16 Universities taking part, involving over 200 participants. The event was hosted at the Universities themselves to make it more accessible for everyone, and ran for 5 hours including a lunch break (10am to 3pm). TryHackMe is running another University CTF event on October 26th, with 19 Universities having already signed up! Context Information Security have been the main sponsors for both HackBack events, which is a perfect fit given that both of us met at an internship at Context. Context has been instrumental, not only with supporting our ideas and ambition, but also more commercial support.

We have worked with various educational institutions and companies to provide security competitions and workshops. TryHackMe is also being white-labelled and integrated into other training solutions to provide a practical element for security courses. The platform has been developed with flexibility in mind, where it has also been adapted as a talent assessment platform providing the hands-on aspect to assess a potential candidate’s theoretical knowledge.

In future, we definitely plan to expand our reach to Universities outside of the UK with further HackBack events.

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