Hacking is all about curiosity, exploration, and deeply understanding how something works. Most people who identify as “hackers” are working very hard to protect people and to make technology easier and safer to use. Unfortunately, when most people hear or read about hacking in the news, the story is about people using hacking to do harm, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Career-wise, people skilled in hacking are highly sought out by companies looking to strengthen their cybersecurity. Computer security experts are in very high demand today, and often are paid six-figure salaries.
CTFs (short for capture the flag) are a type of computer security competition. Contestants are presented with a set of challenges which test their creativity, technical (and googling) skills, and problem-solving ability. Challenges usually cover a number of categories, and when solved, each yields a string (called a flag) which is submitted to an online scoring service. CTFs are a great way to learn a wide array of computer security skills in a safe, legal environment, and are hosted and played by many security groups around the world for fun and practice.