Institute, MACS, and MOC Co-Sponsor Online Computer Security Competition

During the last three weeks of April, over 1,000 teams participated in a multi-round online computer security competition for middle and high school students at Phillips Academy (Andover, MA). Co-sponsored by the Hariri Institute for ComputingMassachusetts Open Cloud (MOC) project, and Modular Approach to Cloud Security (MACS) project, Phillips Academy Capture the Flag (PACTF) is a cyber-security competition where teams “hack, decrypt, reverse, and do whatever it takes to solve increasingly challenging security puzzles.” Additional sponsors included the Abbot Academy Association and the CyLab Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

PACTF had over 1000 teams compete; close to 700 successfully solved a challenge, and more than $3000 worth of prizes were awarded to the top teams. In order to compete, the teams registered online to access specific vulnerability challenges, designed by PACTF. Upon determining and executing an attack, teams obtained an answer string called a “flag,” which was then submitted on the website for feedback and points. Unlike traditional learning approaches, PACTF teaches about security by having students break something by searching for security vulnerabilities.

The program also has different themes designated to each round. The rounds consist of confounding crypto, bamboozling binaries and the wicked web. Each team decides whether to engage in all three rounds or in one specific round that they found interesting. The PACTF website will continue to be fully functional and serve high school students who are interested in the field of cybersecurity. PACTF was created by Phillips Academy students Yatharth Agarwal ’17, Tony Tan ’17, Cameron Wong ’16, Sarp Orgul ’16, and Alex Reichenback ’18 as part of the Techmasters student organization at Phillips Academy. The organizers had this to say about the importance of cybersecurity and hands-on educational approaches:

Our phones today know more about us than perhaps us ourselves: our location history 24/7, our banking and health information, all of the pictures and notes the ‘we’ from 2 years ago took. Whether we hail this age or fear it, the world is becoming increasingly digital, and that means keeping our data safe is ever the more important—and that doesn’t just mean government agencies and banks but all of us, in our daily lives. Today’s youth are tomorrow’s future, and there’s no question that learning cyber-security is important for us.

[Learn more about PACTF]

[Learn more about MACS]

[Learn more about the MOC]