What is a Capture-the-Flag or “CTF” in Cybersecurity?

What is a Capture-the-Flag or "CTF" in Cybersecurity?

MetaCTF was founded to make cybersecurity more accessible and fun. We believe in learning by doing, and gamified training has proven to be an effective way to teach new security skills. Whether you’re an infosec professional or a software developer, you don’t want to encounter your first security incident on the job where stakes are high. MetaCTF’s platform and content can help prepare you for real world security challenges.

So what is a capture-the-flag (or CTF)? A CTF is a cybersecurity competition designed to test and sharpen cybersecurity skills by presenting hands-on challenges that simulate real-world situations. MetaCTF focuses on the following categories: forensics, web exploitation, cryptography, OSINT / reconnaissance, reverse engineering, and binary exploitation.


There’s three primary types of CTFs:

1. Jeopardy-style CTF

2. Attack-Defend / Purple Team CTF

3. King of the Hill

Jeopardy-style CTFs are MetaCTF’s bread and butter. Jeopardy-style CTFs are either individual or team-based and involve solving problems or challenges to receive points on a shared scoreboard. The more points you receive the higher up the scoreboard you go. Each challenge has a short description with information on how to find the flag. These challenges can span a number of categories and difficulty levels. Jeopardy-style CTFs are more versatile because the admin can adjust the challenges to focus on any topic or skill level to fit the user.

Progress is more individualized for Jeopardy-style CTFs than other styles because 1) it’s easier to track individual improvements and 2) is less focused on comparisons to other competitors who might not be at the same skill level. Because of this, Jeopardy-style is the ideal format for companies who want to help employees train and develop security skill sets over a period of time.

Jeopardy-style CTFs are great for a broad range of participants – MetaCTF challenges have been completed by beginners and 20+ year industry veterans alike.

King of the Hill CTFs are typically team-based and require competing teams to take control machines in an environment. When the time is up, the team that held control of the most servers for the longest amount of time wins. Pretty straightforward! King of the Hills can be great team building exercises for organizations.

Purple Team or Attack-Defend CTFs include a similar team-based competitive approach. Another “us vs. them” cybersecurity showdown. Each team has an environment with multiple flags hidden in it. Teams must attack other team’s environments to find flags while simultaneously defending their own (thus the “Attack-Defend” name). Purple Team CTFs are a great way to practice both red-team and blue-team skills in a controlled environment. Generally, this type of CTF takes longer to set up, prepare for, and requires that you know a great deal of background about your team’s skill sets. Creating evenly matched teams is a major key in setting up a Purple Team CTF.

At MetaCTF, we specialize in jeopardy-style CTFs because they encourage collaboration and learning. Think about it – if you’re focused on another team attacking you, you’re scrambling to protect your own environment without necessarily thinking about how they got in or how to attack. We believe in a go at your own pace competition – this way our users can really focus on learning. We want you to win! But we really want you to learn.

Who is a CTF for?

Short answer – a CTF is for anyone who wants to learn more about cybersecurity. CTFs are the best way to get real world cybersecurity experience and are a fantastic way to supplement any formal education or coursework in security you may have completed. For enterprises, CTFs are an amazing supplement to security awareness training.

Specifically for MetaCTF, we have historically served three main types of customers:

1. Companies focused on building out security education and training

Whether you’re a Chief Information Security Officer, an AppSec Engineering Manager, or a Security Training Program Manager, we’ve got you covered. Our goal is to help you to better protect your organization by investing in your most important asset: your people. Implementing CTFs into your security training will help your people share best practices in a learning environment and put them into real-world cyber challenge scenarios. You don’t want your employees seeing a vulnerability for the first time on the job. CTFs are a great way to get reps, explore new things, and learn in a highly engaging, competitive, and fun way.

2. Individuals looking to take their skills to the next level

Through MetaCTF’s Cyber Range, individuals can gain access to the platform and challenge library anytime and anywhere. Our partnership with Black Hills Information Security helps individuals work towards Ace-T certifications. For any individuals interested in learning more about how to prepare for your first CTF, check out our blog post here.

3. Cybersecurity training professionals looking to supplement classroom sessions with hands-on training

Our passion is helping people learn more about cybersecurity and develop new skills. Our partnership with others who share that passion is an obvious one. Market leaders in cybersecurity classroom training like Black Hills Information Security use MetaCTF to supplement the coursework for their students. Students spend time with world class instructors and then come to MetaCTF to practice what they just learned outside of the classroom.

So that’s it. Now you know what a CTF is and how it can help yourself and/or your organization. At MetaCTF, we believe experiential, gamified learning is the future. We’re here to help maximize your organization’s security capabilities by allowing your people to practice in a controlled setting. Oh – and they’ll have fun.

Want to learn more about cybersecurity training options for your team? Schedule a demo here or contact us!

Thomas Rogers
Head of Business Development
(434) 547-0151

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