World’s largest online hacking competition begins next week

For the first time ever, Africa will have its own leaderboard

Daniel Tkacik

Mar 9, 2022

Get ready for picoCTF-Africa 2022

picoCTF, the annual free online cybersecurity competition run by hacking experts in Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute, launches next week. The competition aims to introduce young minds to the world of cybersecurity and to build a pipeline of talent to a much-needed cyber workforce. Since 2013, hundreds of thousands have participated in the competition.

During the competition, which spans a two-week period from March 15-29, participants will be presented with real-life cybersecurity challenges created by Carnegie Mellon’s internationally acclaimed competitive hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning. Challenges are designed to start off easy and gradually increase in difficulty. If participants find themselves stumped, the competition offers hints.

This year, the African continent will have its own leaderboard and set of prizes, with CMU-Africa serving as a sponsor. Over the past few months, picoCTF-Africa has brought African students together for training sessions leading up to the big event.

“We are extremely excited to boost cybersecurity interest in Africa and help young Africans develop cybersecurity skills,” says Assane Gueye, an assistant teaching professor at CMU-Africa and co-director of CyLab-Africa. “Students will walk away with an understanding of reverse engineering, forensics, web security, cryptography, and critical thinking—all skills that are essential in the security industry.”

Globally, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals is estimated to be over two million, according to a report organized by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. That same report says that on average, 50 percent of hiring managers generally do not believe their applicants for cybersecurity positions are well qualified.

“We want to encourage students to start thinking about cybersecurity careers early on,” says CyLab’s Hanan Hibshi, an assistant teaching professor in the Information Networking Institute and a faculty advisor to picoCTF. “By the end of the competition, participants­ might discover talents that they never knew they had before.”

Given the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals, countries across the globe have taken notice of CyLab’s competition and leveraged it for their own residents. Ryerson University in Canada has sponsored picoCTF for the past several years, creating its own Canada-specific scoreboard and prizes for Canadian participants. Cognitive Research Labs in Japan has sponsored the competition in recent years for Japanese participants.

We are extremely excited to boost cybersecurity interest in Africa and help young Africans develop cybersecurity skills.

Assane Gueye, Co-Director of CyLab-Africa

While high school and college students are picoCTF-Africa's target audience, the challenges are likely to pique the interest of a wide audience, including industry professionals. Tens of thousands of university students and industry professionals have participated in previous iterations of the picoCTF competition.

Those interested in participating in picoCTF may register now by visiting picoCTF.org.