Having been involved with the National Cyber League (NCL) for just about three years now, evolving from competitor, to student coach, and now to Player Ambassador, I’ve been asked the question “So what is NCL?” quite a few times.
My first answer is usually just, “It’s a capture-the-flag (CTF) competition that maps to the CompTIA Security+ and the NIST NICE framework,” but in reality, NCL is so much more than just a CTF. NCL is a community of people who are passionate about learning cybersecurity and teaching others along the way. For me, NCL was and still is my pathway into cybersecurity. Every time I’ve felt like I didn’t know enough to succeed, or I wasn’t good enough to be in this industry, NCL has proven me wrong time and time again.
For only $35 per season, you gain a massive wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience, along with a wonderful community of passionate human beings who are more than willing to help you on your cyber journey. You’ll gain access to the practice Gymnasium, a mandatory week-long Preseason Game, the Individual Game, the Team Game, and the Cyber Skyline community Slack. Now let’s break down the competition a little bit more:
The Gymnasium opens about a month before the Preseason Game begins. This gives players plenty of time familiarize themselves with the Cyber Skyline platform and with all of the competencies within the competition, which include:
- Open Source Intelligence
- Log Analysis
- Network Traffic Analysis
- Wireless Security
- Password Cracking
- Web Application Security
- Enumeration and Exploitation
The Gymnasium is not mandatory, but we highly recommend practicing in the Gym before the competition starts, especially if you’re new to NCL. For more about the Gym, head over to this blog.
The Preseason Game is a week-long mandatory competition that must be played on your own. The reason Preseason is mandatory is that it places players into their brackets for the Individual Game. The bracket system works as follows:
- Gold Bracket – top 15% of the Preseason leaderboard
- Silver Bracket – next 35% of the Preseason leaderboard
- Bronze Bracket – remaining 50% of the Preseason leaderboard
If you don’t log into Cyber Skyline and at least attempt to answer one question during the week of Preseason, you’ll be placed in the Pewter Bracket. If you’re placed in the Pewter Bracket, you’re score gets removed from the leaderboard and you become ineligible to receive a Scouting Report. For more about Preseason, check out this blog.
The Individual Game is a weekend-long game that tests players knowledge of the competencies listed above. Participation in both the Preseason and Individual Games makes you eligible to receive a Scouting Report, which details your performance in each of the competencies during the Individual Game.
The Individual Game is pretty aptly named, this part of the CTF must be played on your own. If you get caught cheating, you will be subject to disciplinary action. If you’re unsure about what counts as cheating, check out Kait’s blog here.
During the Individual Game, players compete against all other competitors, including the other players from their schools, as well as seeing how they rank against the other players in their bracket.
For more on the Individual Game, head here.
The Team Game is another weekend-long event where you finally get to participate in NCL with other players. For most of the players, this means other students at their school, but for others this means creating a team of students that they meet through the community Slack in the #ncl-team-search channel. And if you still want to participate in the Team Game, but don’t have a team to play with, you can join in as a team of one since teams can have anywhere from one to seven people.
Teams are also placed into brackets, but these brackets are based on the highest bracket on your team, i.e., if most of the players are in the silver bracket, but one is in the gold bracket, the entire team gets placed in the gold.
For more about the Team Game, head over here.
Well that should cover just about all of the most important information about NCL. I hope that convinces you to join us for the ride! Feel feee to reach out with any questions.