International competitors face cybersecurity challenges in competition designed by UD students

Cybersecurity was front-and-center at the University of Delaware throughout October, culminating with a Capture the Flag (CTF) competition that attracted more than 3,000 participants from at least 17 countries around the world.

The challenges, presented virtually Oct. 28-30, were designed by College of Engineering students and faculty. More than 590 teams, including high school and college students as well as professionals from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Singapore and South Korea, tested their skills in detecting and defending against cyberattacks in a variety of digital challenges. Categories for the competition included binary exploitation, cryptography, forensics, reverse engineering, web and Minecraft, for a total of 50 unique challenges that cybersecurity professionals might face.

“CTF is teaching students a cybersecurity mindset and teaching them how to use tools,” said Nektarios Georgios Tsoutsos, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and associate director of the Center for Cybersecurity, Assurance and Privacy. “It’s showing them realistic scenarios of what will happen in industry as they become analysts or cybersecurity engineers.”

UD recently added a new undergraduate degree program in cybersecurity engineering, launched in Fall 2022. Tsoutsos said the CTF challenges also serve as an aptitude test, highlighting skills or knowledge gaps during the contests.

“Students receive valuable real-world experience through CTF challenges,” said Kenneth Barner, UD’s Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical Engineering.  “The UD CTF has drawn strong support from our partners and sponsors, and we have participating teams across the globe.”

Students studying cybersecurity within the College of Engineering train on digital Capture the Flag competitions while other students also developed challenges for the recently held UD event.

Electrical and computer engineering doctoral student Charles Gouert said the goal of the competition is “to encourage academic students and researchers to explore and develop a passion for cybersecurity as well as allow them to demonstrate and further hone their proficiency in a variety of cybersecurity disciplines, such as cryptography and reverse engineering” at all skill levels.

“At the end of the day, we want everyone who participates to have a great time and develop or hone key cybersecurity skills that will be instrumental in their success in the industry as well as in academia,” he said.

Senior computer science student Tyler Werman, who is pursuing a minor and concentration in cybersecurity, joined the Blue Hens CTF student organization his sophomore year and now serves as co-president of the organization. With about two dozen other participating students, he has played a key role in developing and testing some of the challenges on display this year.

When most people hear of capture the flag, they think of the more physical game than the coding contests that are open to all ages and abilities. Being one of the students and faculty designing those contests has given him a different sense of accomplishment than simply participating in the problem-solving competition, he said.

“It’s like you step up from being a student to being able to teach the topic,” he said. “There’s a different level of knowledge that goes into the background of actually creating a problem.”

Andrew Novocin (far right), associate professor in the UD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, works with cybersecurity students during a Cyber Scholars event in mid-October.

Only U.S.-based teams were eligible for the $500 top prize, which went to team “View Source” from Salem High School. The final team rankings are available at UD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Professor Andrew Novocin also served as a faculty supervisor for the event.

“CTFs are by far the best way to train students in the creative problem solving that cyber professionals need,” Novocin said. “A cyber incident always feels a bit like an escape room and you have to pull on the thread of curiosity to find out what is really going on.”

The event was supported by Diamond-level sponsors JP Morgan Chase & Co. and LabWare and Gold-level sponsor Tech Impact.

Earlier in October, which is national Cybersecurity Awareness Month, faculty and students also participated in the Delaware Department of Technology and Information’s Secure Delaware 2022 conference, the largest cybersecurity gathering in the state. UD was a sponsor of the 13th annual workshop, which was held on campus at Clayton Hall Oct. 4.

“Cybersecurity is strong in Delaware,” Tsoutsos said. “Our security is a national priority, and we want to educate our students and the public on how important it is to learn and raise awareness for cybersecurity.”

Another way UD aimed to do just that was through a cybersecurity-focused ECE Wednesday Tech Forum, or “WTF!,” panel featuring speakers from the Edison Electric Institute, the Krebs Stamos Group, the national blast and Scythe. WTF!, which continues through November, is supported by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Center for Cybersecurity, Assurance and Privacy.

Undergraduates and graduates interested in joining the Blue Hens CTF student group should go to To learn more about UD’s cybersecurity programs and initiatives, go to

Article by Maddy Lauria | Photo illustrations by Joy Smoker | November 11, 2022