Let’s be honest, the last few years have been rough on all of us. Shifting our daily routines to match today’s hybrid-work environment has been quite a challenge. Some of us are still adapting to our new approach to work – whether hybrid or fully remote.
This challenge is not new to us at Cisco. Before the pandemic, we had globally dispersed teams. But finding a balance between work and personal life post-pandemic has become even more of a necessity. Many of our teams working across multiple regions and time zones face additional obstacles. How can we enable our colleagues to come together and problem-solve important issues in a fun and thought-provoking environment?
Since 2021, the Cisco Product Security Incident Response Team (PSIRT) has been organizing the official Capture-the-Flag (CTF) exercise for Cisco’s Security Research & Operations organization. Participants have enjoyed the challenge and cooperation of the CTF, raising their awareness about cybersecurity and learning about evolving attacks and how to defend against them.
Every year since then, we have strived to create bigger, better, and more fun CTF events. In 2023, our goals were to:
- Achieve our usual excitement and nurture our desire for collaboration
- Extend the event to early-in-career and non-technical employees to demonstrate the importance of cybersecurity awareness and education for organizations and individuals alike
This year, we chose CyberStart, the innovative educational platform inspiring the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. CyberStart is an engaging platform sponsored by SANS that offers hundreds of technical challenges ranging from Offensive Security to Programming to Forensics through a powerful, yet fun, gamified narrative. This program also includes a strong infrastructure and reliable support team to make sure the CTF exercise runs smoothly.
We had more than 60 players from around the world, speaking more than 10 languages, with some technical gurus and some casual CTF gamers at their very first CTF experience. But this wasn’t the first time Cisco and SANS partnered for a CTF event. They also hosted the Cisco Women in Cybersecurity CyberStart Challenge in 2020.
Our participants loved it! But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what we heard from the participants when we asked them “How much did you enjoy this event?”
“The CTF is great, but I think challenges aside, the social aspects of it, getting to know people and work with them, is really valuable.” (Nick Leali – Technical)
“I really enjoyed it. I wasn’t particularly excited about doing it just because I am not in a technical role and don’t have much experience with analyzing things like pcap, mem, or looking at files too in depth, but once I got going, I was having a lot of fun. There were a few tools that were really hard to get up and running on the Kali VM, so I ended up doing some challenges on my personal computer running ubuntu. I honestly would love for it to be longer.” (Claire Griffin – Non-Technical)
“I am not in an uber-technical role, so I love that I can still solve some challenges and generally have most tools in the UI needed to be successful on the more modest challenges.” (Travis Kober – Technical/Non-Technical)
“Great event, and for me getting a team together for some team bonding was the best and intended value to sign up vs. how many challenges completed.” (Greg Taam – Technical/Non-Technical)
Thank You SANS!
This was such a fantastic experience, and we achieved all our goals to help cybersecurity experts, non-technical, and early-in-career participants learn new tools and procedures, engage collaboratively, and appreciate how to solve cybersecurity challenges together.
We highly recommend CyberStart as a platform to learn about common cybersecurity threats and how to study them in a fun and collaborative way. Reach out to SANS for more information.
Thank you, SANS, for this awesome platform and for sponsoring our annual event. We look forward to next year and the greater challenges to come.
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