BAE Systems, a British multinational defence, security and aerospace company organises an event called Capture the Flag across UK universities. The event took place at Durham on Saturday, November 26, 2016.
The event comprised of a set of cyber security challenges of different difficulty levels and the task was to solve as many challenges as possible and “capture the flags” on the way. Participants from all years – freshers to finalists – from a variety of subjects like Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences were split up into teams of four to six. We had the opportunity to lay our hands on a range of challenges across domains like Binary Exploits – playing with binary numbers, Crypto – cracking cryptic clues, Forensics, Packets – dealing with data packets, Problem Solving, Trivia, Reverse Engineering and Web- exposing web vulnerabilities.
Personally, I found it a really enriching experience. I got to lay my hands on technologies I had not even heard of. Six hours of intense coding and brainstorming was intellectually stimulating. As people with technical experience of all kinds came together, I learnt quite a lot from those more experienced than me and at the same time had the chance to help freshers with something new to them. The challenges indeed got each one of us on our toes. Some 55 challenges, most of them using technologies that were new to us required us to scavenge for information, look for resources, teach ourselves, get help from others, help others and solve them – all at the same time. Certainly, it tested our problem solving skills to the limit.
At the end of the day, it did not matter where I finished. I did not finish first and did not win that cool gadget the winning team got, but what gave me the most amount of joy was the fact that six hours later, I was heading back home with a huge bunch of new things I had learnt, and all of them being relevant to my degree subject . I got to know what cyber security is and got a glimpse of what things are like in the security industry. I now know to work with technologies I had not even heard of five days ago. Needless to say, other skills like teamwork, working under pressure, problem solving etc. were put to the ultimate test!
I took part in the same event as a fresher and could barely solve one challenge. This year, I managed to crack about 10 of them! This is what matters the most – the process of learning. I would urge everyone to participate in such events – they might sound intimidating and we might feel they’re not for us, but that is how one learns- by challenging themselves. I am indeed very glad that I get the opportunity to take part in events like these at Durham.