“Ah, yes,” you might say “another blog post advertising the NCL. Another company just finding ways to look quirky and relatable while they convince people to spend money on them.“
If this was your first reaction, I understand. I’ll be the first to admit that the National Cyber League (NCL) is looking to expand it’s player base. However, for whatever it’s worth, I would not write the things I do if I didn’t believe in the educational mission and benefits of the NCL itself.
We as the Player Ambassadors believe that giving people more accessible cybersecurity education can truly open up doors for folks that they might not have seen before. Hell, us PA’s would simply be thrilled if all you did was just read some of our posts and learned something new.
That being said, I do want to extol some of the benefits of participating, even if you have no intention of going into cybersecurity as a profession.
Become a Part of a New Community
One of the things we like to pride ourselves on in the NCL is being a part of a community full of folks excited to learn and teach others about the field. Once you register for the competition, you’ll be able to join the Cyber Skyline Slack channel where you can connect with competitors from universities across the country and the NCL Player Ambassadors! There is friendly banter during the competitions, posts and news on current events, and players discussing challenge methodologies after the season is over.
Find New Interests
With a wide range of challenges from password cracking to reverse engineering code, you may find an interest that you never knew you had. Considering that there is so much on people’s plates due to work, school, or life itself, it can be hard to break from routine to do something new or for your own enjoyment. Committing to the NCL gives you a couple days to dive into something new, and maybe find an undiscovered passion or hobby. I personally know that I never would have tried out web application exploitation otherwise, but now I do it as a full-time job!
Improve Your Research Skills
Regardless of your level of knowledge going in to the competition, you’ll find very quickly that learning how to pinpoint important details from questions and finding more information about them is a key part of the NCL. From understanding existing tool kits to digging up history of vulnerabilities in code libraries, research is what will move you forward.
Learning how to research effectively, as well how to identify facts from malicious falsehoods, is an important skill that is useful beyond just the workplace. As you start to understand how to research, you’ll find yourself stopping to ask more thoughtful questions. Being able to ask yourself, “What assumptions might a programmer make about how this application would be used? What kinds of corners might they have cut?” is just as important as looking at polls online and asking “How did they gather participants for this study and what research methods they did employ? How might that effect the results?”
Be More Informed About Security
Though it may seem so far removed from whatever career you’re planning on going into, cybersecurity has intersections in a range of fields. Sometimes that means literally, in the case of these farmers fighting repair bans from tractor companies with cracked Ukrainian John Deere software.
After doing a couple of the NCL challenge categories, you might understand a little bit more about how to extract and track metadata in photos, or how VOIP calls can be reconstructed from wireless packet captures. After talking with some of the NCL community members, you might learn about cool news stories like how this news organization became the first to launch a .onion site on the Tor Network. Maybe you’re just done buying Keurig brew pods and want to brew another company’s coffee, but don’t want to buy another machine.
Understanding cybersecurity and its implications in your daily life can help you make more informed decisions about the apps you download, products you buy, or information you post online or opt-in to share with companies.
All in all, there’s nothing bad about trying to learning more, and the NCL competition and community might be a great entry to broadening these horizons.
With much love and excitement,