Register for UCSB's International Capture the Flag Event

Friday, November 17, 2023

Every year since 2003, researchers in the UC Santa Barbara Computer Science Department have hosted a hacking event, called International Capture the Flag (iCTF). The event has grown into one of the largest and longest-running educational hacking competitions in the world, involving dozens of universities and thousands of student participants who put their cybersecurity skills to the test. Thanks to sponsorship from the newly established AI (Artificial Intelligence) Institute for Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation (ACTION) and collaboration from UCSB’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS), the 2023 iCTF will feature a new design, and for the first time, a separate competition for high school students. 

“We believe an introduction to artificial intelligence and cybersecurity needs to happen in K-12 education, so, we are thrilled to open the competition to high school students for the first time,” said Tim Robinson, managing director of the ACTION Institute. “Children are already interacting with and impacted by AI and security at an early age. So, why wait for college? We believe that it is never too early to start recognizing and solving challenges in the area of computer security.”

The 2023 iCTF will run from Saturday, December 2, through Friday, December 8. This edition of the competition will be challenge-based, meaning that instead of teams attacking each other as in previous years, each team will independently try to solve a set of challenges. The new format will allow teams to solve problems in class or on campus. Each challenge has a flag that can only be obtained when it’s solved, at which time the flag is submitted to a central site for points. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. There will be a competition track for high school teams and another for college students. Each team can have no more than ten people and must have an instructor who will supervise the team’s ethical behavior. There is no fee to enter the competition, and teams can register until Friday, November 24. 

“This is a beginner-friendly event, welcoming participants of all backgrounds, with or without prior security or programming experience.  It will be an educational and enjoyable journey into the cutting-edge fields of AI and cybersecurity,” added Laboni Sarker, a computer science PhD student and director of technical activities for UCSB’s WiCS chapter, a student organization that celebrates diversity and inclusion in technology.  

WiCS was one of the major organizers of this year’s iCTF, along with the ACTION Institute, which is a cutting-edge research center funded earlier this year by the National Science Foundation. The ACTION Institute involves experts from eleven institutions who are collaborating to revolutionize the way mission-critical systems are protected against sophisticated cyberattacks. This cross-institutional team will provide a number of the challenges to be undertaken by iCTF participants. Other challenges were developed by Shellphish, a team of hackers that was founded by UCSB computer science professor, Giovanni Vigna, who is also the director of the ACTION Institute. 

“We leveraged our experience to create this novel competition and framework,” said Vigna, adding that open-sourced software designed to run iCTF is still widely used for security training in academia. “This new format offers an important educational opportunity for our students, who are involved in all aspects of design and execution. We are also eliminating barriers to get the next generation of computer scientists involved a few years earlier.”

To register a team or learn more information, please visit ictf.cs.ucsb.edu

For the first time in the event's history, high school students will be able to compete in the international hacking competition, which runs Dec. 2-8.

For the first time, high school students will  compete in the international hacking competition, which runs Dec. 2-8.