Building cybersecurity talent

Almost 1,000 students participate in first-ever picoCTF-Africa

Hannah Diorio-Toth

May 26, 2022

The digital future of Africa depends on context-aware security and privacy solutions, trusted technology, and strong cybersecurity talent. CMU-Africa and CyLab-Africa are dedicated to addressing these challenges and creating a more resilient African cyberspace.

This March, CyLab-Africa held the first-ever picoCTF-Africa cybersecurity competition in order to excite young Africans to pursue a career in the field of cybersecurity. Participants of picoCTF-Africa were ranked on an African-only leaderboard within CyLab’s larger, annual picoCTF competition.

“We are proud that we had almost 1,000 African students participate in the first picoCTF-Africa,” says Assane Gueye, co-director of CyLab-Africa. “Their performance was impressive and globally competitive. The team leading the African scoreboard was also in the top 60 teams globally.”
awards ceremony

Co-Director of CyLab-Africa Assane Gueye presents at the picoCTF-Africa awards ceremony

The free event encouraged students from all over Africa to create virtual teams, practice skills, and compete. CyLab-Africa, in partnership with CMU-Africa’s Women in Tech club, also held frequent training and information sessions to prepare students for the event. 

Over a two-week period starting March 15, participants worked through 68 challenges that started out relatively easy, and gradually increased in difficulty. If participants found themselves stumped, they could access hints that nudged them towards the solution.

Many of the challenges were written by members of Carnegie Mellon’s internationally acclaimed competitive hacking team, the Plaid Parliament of Pwning. The team has won the so-called “Olympics of Hacking”—DefCon’s Capture the Flag competition five times in the past nine years.

leadership at award ceremony

College of Engineering Dean Bill Sanders and CMU-Africa Director Allen Robinson at the picoCTF-Africa awards ceremony

Prizes were awarded to first, second, and third-place teams in both the high school and college categories. A “Women in Cybersecurity Award” was presented to a winning team to celebrate Africa’s female hackers. In addition, CyLab-Africa partnered with several countries (including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Uganda) to award country-specific prizes to eligible teams.

Although this was the first year for picoCTF-Africa, CyLab has been running picoCTF for over a decade. It has become the world's largest online hacking competition, with over 18,000 people participating this year. 

“Our goal for picoCTF-Africa 2023 is to get every country in Africa to take an active role in encouraging young learners to challenge themselves in CTFs and building cybersecurity capacity in Africa,” says Gueye.

Congratulations to the picoCTF-Africa 2022 winners

Africa-only leaderboard

  1. Ph0n1x
  2. Localmen
  3. Sol0-

High school awards

  1. Ov3rfl0w
  2. W4RH34D
  3. k4r4

Women in cybersecurity

  • Ov3rfl0w

Sierra-Leone-only leaderboard

  1. Fourah Bay College
  2. Njala University

Burkina Faso-only leaderboard

  1. tedious_crusaders
  2. greyhat

Uganda-only leaderboard

  1. Mak_Team
  2. Reconaisence_red_team

Rwanda-only leaderboard

  1. Ov3rfl0w
  2. W4RH34D