MITRE Embedded Capture the Flag Competition to Boost Student Skills for Growing Job Market

Microelectronic chips are found in a myriad of applications important in our everyday lives from electric vehicles and drones to Internet of Things and 5G to contactless payments. These applications and devices are vulnerable to malicious actors, much like software applications are vulnerable to cyber bad actors. We need a new generation of engineering professionals to address these vulnerabilities to keep us all safe.

To help prepare students for jobs in this multi-billion-dollar market, MITRE is running an Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF) competition from January to April in 2023. Beyond gaining valuable hands-on experience, student teams are eligible to win cash prizes.

“While many online capture-the-flag competitions focus on security, MITRE’s focuses on electronics hardware, which is increasingly as vulnerable as traditional IT and software systems,” said Doug Robbins, vice president, engineering and prototyping, MITRE. “Our participants will engage in both offense and defense as they attempt to create a secure system and then learn from their mistakes.”

New this year, the eCTF is inviting external sponsors to help upscale the competition and allow more students to participate. The sponsorship program is designed to help participating sponsors close critical workforce talent gaps.

In the 2023 competition, teams will design and implement a key fob system for a car door lock. The system must protect the car from unauthorized entry and prevent attacks such as replays and key fob cloning. In the first phase of the eCTF, competitors design and implement a secure system based on a set of challenge requirements. In the second phase, competitors analyze and attack the other teams’ designs. Teams earn points by conducting successful attacks and by withstanding the attacks of other teams.

University and high school teams of any size can participate, although teams are recommended to have 3-10 students. Sponsorship of a faculty member is required.

Faculty and student participation in the eCTF is free. MITRE provides the resources to complete the competition, however teams may choose to purchase additional resources to aid with development or attacking. MITRE provides teams with a reference implementation, embedded hardware, and technical guidance.

MITRE encourages teams of all levels of experience to compete in the eCTF and aims to make the eCTF accessible to students new to security and embedded systems. However, it is recommended that participants understand development in C and Python, as the reference design will be implemented in those languages.

Winning teams receive a cash prize, publicity from MITRE, and typically earn accolades from their school as well. The prize amount for 2023 will be announced at the kickoff on January 18, 2023. Students have used their participation in past eCTF competitions to build their resumes, present at conferences, and open the door to valuable internship and career opportunities, including engineering positions at MITRE and eCTF partners and sponsors.

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