Hack on! Top 10 Cybersecurity Competitions for Students
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- Cyber attacks and attempts to control equipment are increasing and getting more disruptive.
- Security analysts are in high demand and can earn over $100,000 annually.
- Learners can study cybersecurity in school, through coding bootcamps, or online courses.
- Cybersecurity competitions provide a fun, alternative way to hone your ethical hacking skills.
Hacking has a bad rap. But many people don't know the truth — that good hacking exists too. Cybersecurity specialists are often better hackers than malicious ones because they must ensure that company websites and firewalls are as secure as possible.
In 2021, Gartner Research revealed attacks on hardware and software, along with attempts to control equipment, are increasing. Not only that, but these attacks are getting more disruptive.
To that end, the need for cybersecurity professionals continues to expand. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for information security analysts will grow by 35% between 2021-2031.
The real question is, are you interested in cybersecurity? Do you long to try your hand at a hackathon? Look no further, as we have compiled the best cybersecurity competitions for you to enter (and hopefully win!).
Where Can I Get Cybersecurity Training?
You may first be wondering if you should get solid cybersecurity training before you enter a competition. If you feel a little rusty or are brand-new to cybersecurity, don't fear.
The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides free beginner to advanced-level courses. CISA also offers courses, including cyber essentials and ethical hacking, preparing professionals for the certified information systems security professional (CISSP) certification.
Other certifications you can pursue include:
- Cloud security
- Healthcare security & privacy
- IT/ICT security administration
- Security assessment and authorization
- Secure software development
Not into certifications? Low-cost alternatives for beginners include platforms like Coursera or Udemy. Learners can also take courses from tech companies such as Google or IBM to learn to code and explore the cybersecurity field.
Cybersecurity bootcamps are intensive options that provide hands-on experience. They typically take from 3-24 months to complete. They can occur in person, remotely, or in a hybrid format.
Asynchronous online learning offers the flexibility to work while completing the bootcamp. These courses provide recorded lectures, assigned readings, online forums, and virtual libraries.
Synchronous online learning features scheduled class times where students and instructors can interact virtually. Students learn the best programming languages for ethical hacking, such as C++, Pearl, PHP, Python, and SQL.
Some bootcamps also participate in the following top cybersecurity competitions.
Let's Go! Top Cybersecurity Competitions
Time for the fun part! Here are the top 10 cybersecurity competitions and hackathons for this year.
National Cyber League Competition
The biannual National Cyber League Competition (NCL) is a top cybersecurity competition where students can hone their cloud-based skills. NCL challenges may resemble malware or mimic actual cyber attacks using various resources, such as web servers that could be compromised.
All players compete at once during practice, individual, and team games. Students at least 13 years old who are enrolled in a U.S. high school, college, apprenticeship, or bootcamp may compete.
Registration usually happens in the fall.
President's Cup Cybersecurity Competition by CISA
The President's Cup cybersecurity competition has two tracks: offensive and defensive. Participants can enroll as individuals, participating in one or both tracks.
Teams take on tasks from eight in-demand work roles, including cyber defense incident responder, network operations specialist, and exploitation analyst. The President's Cup cybersecurity competition is open to U.S. federal employees, including federal civilian employees, active-duty military members, and the National Guard.
Individual registration runs from August to September.
The Global Cyberlympics is an international hacking competition with categories including digital forensics, network and service exploitation, and web applications. This competition reinforces teamwork and includes challenges that span various IT security aspects.
Competitors must enter as a team of up to six participants. Each team needs a designated captain who acts as the liaison before and during the competition.
This cybersecurity challenge awarded three cash prizes at the finals in 2019.
CyberPatriot is a national cyber defense competition that challenges teams to find and fix vulnerabilities in virtual operating systems. The teams receive a network security challenge and a Cisco networking challenge over a six-hour timeframe.
Middle and high school students can enter the competition, with 2-6 competitors enrolled in the participating school. They may have one adult coach, a technical mentor, and a team assistant.
Registration for the competition usually closes in October.
National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition
The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) allows students to apply theory and practical skills. CCDC competitions put student teams in administrative and cybersecurity roles for an existing network with users, servers, and internet services.
Competitors must be full-time students of the college they represent. They can only be a member of one team per season. Each team may have eight members with no more than two graduate students.
Registration for the 2023 CCDC season is open through January 2023.
Panoply is a timed network, assessment, defense, and security competition, in which student teams compete for resources and critical services. A team must take possession of a resource, then secure it against attacks from other teams.
In Panoply's academic edition, teams need 2-4 members registered at the college they represent. Team members must have less than two years of paid experience in the field.
The University of Texas at San Antonio'sCenter for Infrastructure Assurance & Security develops and hosts multiple cyber defense competitions.
Capture the Flag by CSAW
Capture the Flag by CSAW is a jeopardy-style competition for college students interested in a cybersecurity career. The challenges help students develop their skills in binary exploitation, cryptography, reverse engineering, and industrial control systems.
Teams need 2-4 members enrolled in a school's accredited undergrad or graduate program. The competition allows mixed teams with students from different colleges.
The qualification round is online in September, and the final round in November occurs online and in person in the U.S. and Canada.
High School Cybersecurity Competition
The Lockdown Cybersecurity Competition for High Schools is a hands-on competition at the University at Buffalo. Student teams must complete various assigned tasks and defend a small
network of systems from attack in a simulated environment.
High school students of all skill levels can join this high school cybersecurity competition. Teams need a faculty advisor, and only 12 teams can sign up, with a maximum of five students per team.
The competition occurs online and in person at the University at Buffalo in December.
Cyber Quests are online competitions featuring an artifact for analysis and a series of quiz questions. Some challenges focus on vulnerable web servers, and others highlight forensic and packet capture analysis.
Cyber Quests are part of the U.S. Cyber Challenge, supported by the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate. The competition is open to U.S. high school, college, and post-graduate students.
SANS Cyber Range
SANS Cyber Ranges curate an environment where teams can practice skills on live production equipment and systems. Teams play Capture-the-Flag and handle real-world simulations from various disciplines. These include cyber defense, cloud security, digital forensics, and offensive operations.
SANS Cyber Ranges provide challenges for all skill levels with increasingly complex situations. Individuals and teams of up to five are eligible to participate.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cybersecurity Competitions
How much do cybersecurity analysts make?
According to the BLS, security analysts earned a median annual wage of $102,600 in May 2021. The lowest paid 10% earned less than $61,520. The highest-paid 10% of workers earned over $165,920.
Cybersecurity analysts in information technology earned a median annual wage of $128,970 in May 2021. Those in finance and insurance earned a median yearly pay of $104,790 during the same period.
Can I earn money from cybersecurity competitions?
Yes. You can earn money from cybersecurity competitions, and there are typically other prizes as well. For example, the Global Cyberlympics awards an American Express gift card to the team captain at the finals. The first-place team receives $1,500. The second-place prize is $1,000, and the third-place winners receive $750.
Other prizes include free streaming video lectures, official E-Courseware, and a certification exam voucher.
How old do I have to be to enter a cybersecurity competition?
Most of the competitions on our list focus on students building their skills in cybersecurity. To that end, cybersecurity competitions exist for people as young as 13 years old.
For example, the NCL competition is open to students 13 years old and up to practice their defensive skills in cyber attacks. CyberPatriot is a cyber defense competition for middle and high school student teams.
The Lockdown Cybersecurity Competition is a hands-on competition for high school students hosted by the University at Buffalo. Typically, the rules state that students must attend the middle school, high school, or college they represent.
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