There are varying reasons that a high school students should compete in the National Cyber League (NCL) Games. These reasons can vary from the positive impacts that it can have on your career to the fact that it is just down right fun.
Opportunities for the Future
Cybersecurity is an ever-growing field with a projected 10 year growth rate of 32%. The demand for more security-focused professionals is going to expand with it and the need for new perspectives and viewpoints comes with that demand. The solution to this demand for labor and new perspective is going to come from the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. This is why high school students need to learn how to break things and how to secure things. What better place to start then the NCL Games?
Accessibility for the New Player
The NCL Games stand as an excellent starting spot for any high school student interested in joining cybersecurity. It includes a set of challenges that were created to be fun and educational for people of multiple skill levels. Additionally, it is paired with the very relative training material on CryptoKait’s blog. This powerhouse combination makes the NCL Games an excellent first Capture the Flag (CTF) for the beginning player. While playing the NCL games, you will have the chance to learn about varying topics in cybersecurity in a controlled (and legal) setting.
Friendships and Community
Playing in the NCL Games is a great way to meet new people with similar interests as you. Through the NCL Community, you can forge new relationships and gain a new sense of community.
During my first season of NCL, I was a high school student taking a few Computer Security courses at my local community college. At that point, I was only a sophomore in high school. Soon, I was invited by the teacher to join the NCL team. I accepted; and through playing the Games, I was able to meet new people who had similar interests as me. It was an awesome opportunity. By playing in the NCL Games, you can meet people that you may have not gotten the chance to otherwise.
The NCL has an active online community. The NCL Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn often drops mini challenges that are quick and fun little ways to practice. Furthermore, you can often meet new people online in the replies to those challenge and sometimes NCL awards gift cards for correct answers. Cyber Skyline also hosts a slack workspace during the game so you can chat with other teams and players competing on the challenges. Combine these with the live streams that the Player Ambassadors host and the online community that has been created for NCL is large and full of so many awesome people who you can share knowledge with.
With all the people you will meet, you can gain a lot of useful connections at a young age. When you are looking for an internship or you are having trouble grasping a certain concept, you will have a network of contacts that you can call upon.
It IS Fun!
Hacking things is fun and when you add in the competitive nature of CTFs, it becomes even more fun. Working on a challenge and understanding all the little bugs a program has and then being able to use those bugs to manipulate it into giving you points is such a rush! This style of learning in general is fun and the atmosphere created by CTFs forces you to be on your feet and think quickly and creatively.
Because YOU CAN Do This!
At first, CTFs can seem intimidating. You might be thinking to yourself, “What if I can’t solve anything?”, or “What if I don’t understand the challenges?”. This is normal, especially if you are a high schooler. The best advice I can give you is this:
If you are worried about the competition aspect, but still want the learning experience, you should ignore the score board. Instead of comparing yourself against others, focus on the progress YOU are making. You should make sure to take notes because sometimes, when you compete in a CTF, you won’t solve any challenges and that is okay. But if you take notes, you can look back on them and understand what didn’t work and then study up the proper solution.
The hardest part of getting started with CTFs is taking the first step and actually doing one. If you are having trouble building the courage to participate, just know that you can do this and the NCL Player Ambassadors have written a TON of resources to help.
How to Get Started
The hardest part of getting started as a high school student is finding a team. Not all high schools are willing to sanction a hacking team. While it’s a ton of fun to compete with your classmates, you are able to sign up as an individual.
As for finding teammates, you can:
- Find a team on the Cyber Skyline slack workspace. (There is an entire channel for finding a team!)
- Gather a group of students and do it outside of school.
- Compete by yourself! (NCL allows teams of one if necessary.)
A Final Note
Always remember not to get discouraged when you can’t figure something out. This is normal and a part of growing. You are awesome just for taking the first step and trying CTFs out.
If you get hooked and are looking for more after NCL, another great CTF is picoCTF. You should 100 percent try out both of them if you are interested in cybersecurity.