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cybersecurity
8 min read
Mateo Picari
8 min read

The rollercoaster ride of a cybersecurity challenge

Let me introduce myself.
I'm Mateo Picari

I'm 18, and took part in the Reply Cyber Security Challenge 2019.
Why?
Some schoolmates introduces me to this prestigious international challenge and I decided to join the team. At that time, I was no expert in cybersecurity. In fact, I was doing my last year at high school and was taking my first steps into the dark world of computer science.

Achieving a decent position
in the challenge was almost nil
New friends, new skills and an outlandish experience were the best prizes

Reality

I knew achieving a decent position in the challenge was almost nil and I thought I’d struggle to solve any problems. And so it proved! We finished 188th and completed only one problem, thanks to one of my teammates. So I didn’t win any of the coveted prizes, but I did win some other things that day: new friends, new skills and I had a “winning” experience. Actually, it was the promise of these things that persuaded me to take part in the Cyber Security Challenge in the first place, despite my lack of experience in the subject. In fact, I can say I’m very satisfied with what I gained personally from the experience. Out of the five categories (Coding, Web, Binary, Misc and Crypto) I focused on web and coding, which were closer to my field of study, and which we thought were the more feasible. However, we didn’t score a point for either.

Snake charming (not 😔)

The competition started with the Coding category, but my Python script for the first problem did not return the right output and needed to be revised and corrected. Each attempt proved to be incorrect, despite having spent the entire first day on the problem. I was convinced I’d wasted too much time writing and swearing at 153 lines of useless code (you can’t kick code like you can hardware 😊). But, actually, I was wrong. It wasn't wasted time, it was my attempt to solve a problem which, despite the failure, has helped me get to where I am today.

It was my attempt to solve a problem
which, despite the failure, has helped me
get to where I am today.

Caught in a web

The next day, my teammates and I focused on the first problem of the Web category: an empty web page, except for one sentence: “Access is only permitted from within our corporate network!”. This problem seemed both absurd and unsolvable – especially for one as inexperienced as me. But it was also both curious and interesting. After many attempts, numerous Google searches, and long discussions in the team, we eventually identified the solution: the Modify Headers extension. After accessing and unlocking the log-in form, however, we didn’t get any closer to solving the problem, so we didn’t score any points in this category either. But for me, the Web category turned out to be the most informative because of the practical experience of using the numerous tools we tried.

So much to learn

The remaining three categories were also very engaging and educational, both during the competition and after the Challenge. For example, decrypting files, sounds and hardware devices kept me curious, concentrating and involved during the whole challenge, encouraging me to look for solutions time and again. And after the Challenge it was great to see the winning teams’ various solutions published and explained. I felt this was really important and really captured the positive spirit of the event. Seeing their solutions allowed me to learn and understand how they solved the problems and prompted me to learn new skills even after the competition ended. Plus, I also managed to wrap-up that Coding script, after comparing it to a correct one. Take that, Python!

Seeing the winning teams’ solutions prompted me to learn new skills.
Seeing the winning teams’ solutions prompted me to learn new skills.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
It was a very exciting and special experience

I'll be back

The Cyber Security Challenge 2019 was a very exciting and special experience. It allowed me to test my skills, gain new ones, tackle real-world problems and collaborate as part of a team. And it’s for these reasons I’d recommend it to anyone who’s passionate about the IT sector.
I will certainly take part in future editions, with greater determination and without the fear of failure because, as the well-known playwright and poet S. Becket said:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”