Top 15 CTF Challenges for Beginners (How to Start in 2024)

Top 15 CTF Challenges for Beginners

Hacking challenges, often showcased in Capture The Flag (CTF) competitions, are designed to test participants' skills and knowledge in the field of ethical hacking. These challenges range from beginner to advanced levels. In this article, we will discuss everything related to the CTF challenges for beginners.

This article aims to introduce beginners to the realm of ethical hacking CTF challenges, outlining their benefits. We will also learn about diverse types of CTF challenges that are suitable for newcomers. This information will guide you in getting started with ethical hacking and specifically capture-the-flag hacking events. You will be able to understand how ethical hackers and CTF participants approach these challenges and gain valuable insight into hacking CTFs.

So, without further ado, let's dig deep into understanding what CTF challenges for beginners are.

What Are CTF Challenges?

Hacking challenges, also known as Capture the Flag (CTF) competitions, are exciting and increasingly popular events that simulate real-world cyber security scenarios. These challenges are designed to test participants' skills, knowledge, and creativity in various aspects of ethical hacking.

In hacking challenges, participants are presented with a series of puzzles, codes, exploits, and intricate problems to solve. These challenges cover a wide range of categories, each focusing on a specific area of cyber security. Categories may include:

  • OSINT (Open-source Intelligence): Participants are challenged to gather OSINT information from various publicly available sources, such as social media, news articles, and online forums, to assess the security risks associated with individuals and organizations.
  • Web: These challenges involve analyzing and infiltrating websites, web applications, and web services to identify and exploit vulnerabilities. Participants must think critically and creatively to find and leverage weaknesses to gain unauthorized access or sensitive information.
  • Exploit: Participants are tested on their ability to write and execute exploits (code designed to take advantage of vulnerabilities in software or systems). These challenges require a deep understanding of programming, coding, and system administration.
  • Cryptography: Cryptography challenges test participants' skills in encryption, decryption, and secure communication. These challenges often involve breaking codes, solving puzzles, and unraveling complex puzzles using encryption and obfuscation techniques.
  • Network: Network challenges focus on understanding and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer networks. Participants may be asked to analyze network traffic, identify weaknesses, and craft attacks to compromise the security of a network.
  • Others: In addition to the above, challenges also cover a wide range of subjects, such as reverse engineering, binary exploitation, digital forensics, and more. These challenges are often unique and require a diverse skill set.

Formats in Capture-the-flag (CTF) Competitions:

Capture-the-flag (CTF) competitions in cyber security typically fall into three main categories:

  • Jeopardy-style CTF: In this format, teams or individuals solve a set of challenges that are organized in a board-like structure. Each challenge, when solved, provides a flag that can be submitted for points.
  • Attack-Defense CTF: In this format, each team is given a set of vulnerable services. Teams must maintain their own services (defense) while exploiting vulnerabilities in other teams’ services (attack). The flags are typically stored on the servers running the services, and teams capture these flags by exploiting the vulnerabilities.
  • Mixed-style CTF: This format is a combination of Jeopardy and Attack-Defense styles. It usually starts with a Jeopardy-style round to qualify the top teams, which then compete in an Attack-Defense round.

Hacking challenges can be either team-based or individual. In team-based challenges, participants collaborate and divide tasks to solve challenges more efficiently. On the other hand, individual challenges test participants' ability to work independently and think strategically.

Why Compete In CTF Challenges?

Participating in hacking challenges like Capture-the-Flag (CTF) offers numerous benefits to individuals interested in pursuing a career in cyber security. These challenges provide a platform for individuals to showcase their skills, gain prestige, learn from experts, earn monetary rewards, and network with professionals in the industry.

  1. Skill Development: Hacking challenges offer a unique opportunity for individuals to enhance their technical skills in a structured and immersive environment. By participating in CTFs, individuals can practice various hacking techniques, such as penetration testing, network analysis, and exploit development, in a safe and controlled manner. These challenges allow participants to test their problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, and understanding of security concepts.
  2. Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration: CTFs bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds with similar interests. This collaborative environment encourages knowledge sharing and enables participants to learn from one another.
    Participants can gain insights from experts, mentors, and experienced individuals who can provide guidance and advice on different aspects of cyber security. Additionally, CTFs provide opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, as participants often work together to solve complex challenges.
  3. Building a Professional Network: Participating in CTFs provides a great opportunity to connect with professionals in the field of cyber security. By engaging with other participants, mentors, and organizers, individuals can expand their professional network and gain exposure to new ideas and technologies. This network can be a valuable resource for future career opportunities, such as internships, job opportunities, or mentorship relationships.
  4. Prestige and Recognition: Winning CTF events or achieving notable accomplishments can bring substantial prestige and recognition within the hacking community. Being recognized as an expert in a particular field or winning prestigious awards can enhance one's reputation and increase visibility within the field. This recognition can open doors to new opportunities, collaboration, and speaking engagements that can significantly boost one's professional profile.
  5. Fun and Competition: Hacking challenges offer a unique and rewarding experience that combines the thrill of competition with the thrill of solving puzzles. Participants can compete against other skilled individuals, increasing their motivation and drive to improve. This sense of competition fosters a sense of achievement and satisfaction when solving difficult challenges.
    Moreover, the fun and excitement associated with CTFs can make the learning process more enjoyable and captivating.
  6. Portfolio Enhancement: Participating in CTFs can enhance one's resume and portfolio, making it more attractive to potential employers and clients. Employers often value candidates who have demonstrated their knowledge and skills through participation in hacking challenges.
    By showcasing participation in CTFs, individuals can demonstrate their passion for cyber security and commitment to continuous learning. Additionally, the challenges themselves provide a platform for individuals to showcase their problem-solving capabilities, creativity, and ability to think critically.
  7. Monetary Rewards: One of the most significant benefits of participating in CTFs is the opportunity to earn monetary rewards. Some CTF organizers offer cash prizes for solving challenges or achieving specific goals. These rewards can serve as a motivation to enhance one's skills and put in the extra effort required to succeed. Additionally, these monetary rewards can provide financial incentives for individuals to pursue a hacking or cyber security career.

What CTF Challenges for Beginners Can I Try?

Below are several beginner-friendly hacking challenges / Capture-the-flag (CTF) competitions that are suitable for newcomers to ethical hacking:

1. picoCTF

  • Website: picoCTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Reverse-engineer, Break, Hack, Decrypt
  • Location: Online
  • Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: Hosted by picoCTF, you’re required to be at least 13 years old to participate (if under 18, have the consent of a parent or legal guardian to participate)
CTF Challenges picoCTF Winners 2022
picoCTF Winners - 2022

2. Insomni’hack:

  • Website: Insomni’hack
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Web, Hardware, Web, Crypto, Reverse, Pwn, Warmup, Forensics, Game, Shellcode, Network, Crypto, Misc
  • Location: Switzerland (Main event); Online challenges available
  • Cost: Varies (Some challenges might require fees)
  • Description: Insomni’hack is an established cyber security event offering a mix of on-site and online challenges, covering a wide array of topics suitable for varying skill levels.
CTF Challenges: Insomni’hack 2023
Insomni’hack 2023

3. 0CTF/TCTF:

  • Website: 0CTF/TCTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Pwnable, Reverse, Web, Crypto, Misc
  • Location: Online
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: 0CTF/TCTF is an online competition known for its challenging and diverse tasks, attracting participants globally. It encompasses multiple cyber security domains, catering to different expertise levels.
CTF Challenges: 0CTF/TCTF
0CTF/TCTF Scorecard 2024

4. GoogleCTF:

  • Website: GoogleCTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Pwn, Reverse, Crypto, Web, Sandbox, Misc
  • Location: Online
  • Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: Organized by Google, this CTF provides challenges suitable for beginners to seasoned professionals, focusing on real-world scenarios and diverse cyber security aspects.

5. PlaidCTF:

  • Website: PlaidCTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style in the theme of a map.
  • Categories: Web, Crypto, Pwn, Reverse, etc.
  • Location: Online
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: PlaidCTF is an annual online competition known for its diverse challenges and welcoming environment for participants of all skill levels.
CTF Challenges: PladCTF
Figure: PlaidCTF Map

6. DEF CON:

  • Website: DEF CON
  • Type: Various (Hacker conference with CTF events), including Jeopardy, Attack-Defence, and mixed
  • Categories: Exploit Development, Packet Capture Analysis, Web Hacking, Digital Puzzles, Cryptography, Stego, Reverse Engineering, Binary Analysis, Mobile Security, Forensics, Live VM to Triage
  • Location: Las Vegas, USA (Main event); Online events available
  • Level: Beginner to Advanced
  • Cost: $440 USD
  • Description: DEF CON hosts multiple CTF events during its hacker conference, offering challenges suitable for beginners alongside advanced tasks for seasoned cyber security enthusiasts.

7. ASIS CTF:

  • Website: ASIS CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style CTF
  • Categories: General Security Information (Trivia), Web, Crypto, Exploit, Forensics, Reverse, Steganography, etc.
  • Location: Online
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: ASIS CTF Finals features challenges catering to participants with diverse skill levels and interests in the cyber security domain.
CTF Challenges: ASIS CTF
ASIS CTF Scoreboard

8. Pwn2Own CTF:

  • Website: Pwn2Own CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style CTF
  • Various WWeb, Pwn, Reverse Engineering, Server-Based, Enterprise, Critical, RCE, Mainstream, Widely-Implemented, ICS/SCADA, IoT, Browser Bugs, OS Flaws, Sandbox Escapes, VM Escapes, Security Products, and Mobile Vulnerabilities.
  • Location: Multiple locations on-site; Online challenges are available
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: Pwn2Own CTF is an online event organized by Zero Day Initiative that provides a platform for participants to engage in challenges across different cyber security disciplines.
CTF Challenges: Pwn2Own CTF
Pwn2Own Toronto Day 3

9. FAUST CTF:

  • Website: FAUST CTF
  • Type: Attack-defense CTF competition
  • Categories: Web, Forensic, Crypto, Binary, etc.
  • Location: Online
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: FAUST CTF is an online competition known for its diverse challenges that cover different facets of cyber security, providing opportunities for participants with varying skill sets. This is an attack-defense type CTF competition where teams compete with each other to attack and defend.
CTF Challenges: FAUST CTF
FAUST CTF 2023 Scorecard

10. 37C3 Potluck CTF:

  • Website: 37C3 Potluck CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Hardware, Reversing, Web, Pwn, Cryptography, Sandbox, Misc
  • Location: Germany (Main event); Online availability
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: The 37C3 Potluck CTF provides diverse challenges and an inclusive environment, welcoming participants with different skill sets to engage in cyber security challenges.
CTF Challenges: 37C3 Potluck CTF
37C3 Potluck CTF

11. SECCON CTF:

  • Website: SECCON CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Web, Sandbox, Miscellaneous, Pwnable, Reversing
  • Location: Japan (Main event)
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: SECCON CTF hosts challenges that cater to cyber security enthusiasts globally, offering a mix of tasks suitable for participants with varying levels of expertise.
CTF Challenges: SECCON CTF
SECCON CTF

12. niteCTF:

  • Website: niteCTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Assets, Crypto, Forensics, Incident Response, Misc, Pwn, Reverse, Web
  • Location: Online
  • Level: Beginner to Intermediate
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: niteCTF is an online competition organized by the Cryptonite team that offers challenges designed for students, beginners, and intermediate-level participants, focusing on enhancing cyber security skills.
CTF Challenges: niteCTF 2023
niteCTF

13. zer0pts CTF:

  • Website: zer0pts CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Misc, Pwn, Reverse, Binaries, Web, Images, Trivia, Forensics, Random
  • Location: Online
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: zer0pts CTF hosts online challenges catering to participants with diverse skill sets, offering a range of cyber security tasks to enhance participants' capabilities.
CTF Challenges: zer0pts CTF
zer0pts CTF Scorecard

14. Wargames.MY CTF:

  • Website: Wargames.MY CTF
  • Type: Jeopardy-style competition
  • Categories: Web, Reverse Engineering, Cryptography, Forensics, Pwn, Ppc, Misc
  • Location: Malaysia (Main event); Online challenges available
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: Wargames.MY CTF provides challenges encompassing various cyber security domains, inviting participants globally to engage and improve their cyber security skills.

15. CTF Internacional MetaRed:

  • Website: CTF Internacional MetaRed
  • Type: 7 stages Jeopardy CTF Championship
  • Categories: Crypto, Forensics, Hardware, Misc, OSINT, Pwn, Rev, Web
  • Location: Multiple locations on-site
  • Level: All Levels
  • Cost: Free
  • Description: The Cyber Cooperative CTF offers a collaborative platform for participants to tackle challenges in diverse cybersecurity fields, fostering a cooperative learning environment.
CTF Challenges: MetaRed CTF
CTF International MetaRed

Conclusion

CTF hacking challenges and competitions provide a great platform for beginners, cyber security enthusiasts, and professionals to showcase their hacking skills, learn new techniques, collaborate and network with experts, gain expertise and monetary rewards, foster a sense of competition and camaraderie, and contribute to the ever-evolving field of cyber security.

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  • Sai

    Sai is a Security Researcher and cyber security expert. Passionate about sharing his knowledge, Sai channels his insights through his blogs, where he covers a wide range of topics within the realm of cyber security, including ethical hacking, incident response, cyber threat intelligence, and more. Sai seeks to empower readers with valuable information and guidance, helping them navigate the ever-evolving cyber security landscape.

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