eCTF

Embedded Capture the Flag Competition

The Competition

The Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF) Competition is an attack-and-defend exercise for designing secure embedded systems

The Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF) is an embedded security competition run by MITRE in partnership with Riverside Research that puts participants through the experience of trying to create a secure system and then learning from their mistakes. The main target is a real physical or emulated embedded device, which opens the scope of the challenge to include physical/proximal access attacks. The eCTF is a two-phase competition with attack and defense components. In the first phase, competitors design and implement a secure system based on a set of challenge requirements. The second phase involves analyzing and attacking the other teams’ designs.

2023 eCTF

Team registration is now open for the 2023 eCTF at https://forms.office.com/g/rLaXwSBpdk. You do not need to know the lineup of students who will compete; an individual competitor registration form will be released in December. This form is only meant to be filled out by faculty advisors.

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 like replays and key fob cloning.

The 2023 competition will run from January 18th through April 19th with an award ceremony on April 26th.

For more information or to join the email list, reach us at ectf@mitre.org.

eCTF Timeline

Past eCTF Competitions

2022 - Avionics Bootloader

Teams secured an avionic device by designing a secure firmware update system and bootloader. The system had to protect intellectual property and aircraft mission secrets in an untrusted environment, and ensure firmware protection and integrity in the face of supply-chain threats such as hardware trojans.

2021 - UAV Communications

Teams designed a secure communications system for an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) package delivery system. The system had to be secure to prevent attackers from gaining access to the network to spy on and disrupt the UAV system.



2020 - Audio DRM

Teams designed a secure audio digital rights management (DRM) module for a next-generation multimedia player on the Digilent Cora Z7. The system had to be secure to prevent users from playing pirated music, support region locking, and prevent the creation of cloned bootleg players.

2019 - Video Game Console

Teams designed a secure video game console on the Digilent Arty Z7. The system had to attempt to protect the intellectual property of game designers, prevent users from loading their own software, and allow verified users to install and play games that they have purchased.

 

2018 - ATM System

Teams were tasked with designing a modern chip-and-PIN ATM system. Teams had to design and implement the firmware, software, and protocols for the ATM card, the ATM, and the Bank Server to support secure cash withdrawals.

 

 

2017 - Car Bootloader

Teams were challenged to design and implement a system to support secure firmware distribution for automotive control.

 

 

2016 - IoT Door Lock

In the inaugural eCTF, teams designed a secure pin door lock system.

    How is the eCTF different from other competitions?

    The eCTF is unique in three major ways. First, the focus is on securing embedded systems, which presents a new set of challenges and security issues that are not currently covered by traditional “online” CTFs. Second, unlike the standard attack-only CTF, the eCTF balances offense and defense by including design, build, and attack components. Finally, the eCTF runs over the majority of the spring semester through three phases, allowing time for development and for advanced attacks during the Attack Phase.

    01

    Focus on Embedded

    02

    Attack / Defend

    03

    Extended Time

    Competitor Testimonials

    This CTF, although really hard, was extremely fun… [It] motivated me to dive in deeper and work that much harder to get better as an engineer. The MITRE staff was AMAZING! Thank you for this opportunity

    -2021 eCTF Competitor

    Navigating the intricacies of securing an embedded device was a fun and new experience. Overall, my experience with the eCTF has led me to consider pursuing embedded system security as a focus area / career.

    -2022 eCTF Competitor

    I had no security experience prior to this competition. The learning curve was HUGE and I LOVED that! I was forced to learn so much. I loved doing the research, designing and implementing the secure system, and reviewing and attacking other teams’ designs. It was a blast!

    -2021 eCTF Competitor

    Its a really fun challenge to think about, and putting it in a competition really gave me motivation to learn the skills I needed to learn, even if our team didn’t win, I ended up learning a lot of things that will be useful in the future.

    -2022 Competitor

    I thought it was a great learning experience for practical applications especially embedded CTF. It was a great CTF topic this year since I really enjoy learning about bootloaders and boot secure devices and development.

    -2022 eCTF Competitor

    [I enjoyed] learning about how Embedded Security works and how to analyze secure systems vs unsecure systems and learning about the basics of bootloader management and designing a secure bootloader for a secure firmware/application management.

    -2022 eCTF Competitor

    Thanks so much for the time spent to host an awesome competition, and especially one that works as a capstone opportunity. Making the timeline roughly match the university semester meant I was able to use this for class and engage with it more thoroughly than I would have been able to if it was just a time-intensive extracurricular activity.

    -2022 eCTF Competitor

    This competition exposed an entirely new side of cybersecurity to me as a Computer Science major… [It] was a great learning experience and got me interested in lower-level security

    -2021 eCTF Competitor

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Who can participate?

    Anyone! Students at all academic levels are welcome to participate. Team sizes are unlimited (although a minimum of 3 students is recommended). Sponsorship of a faculty member to act as a team advisor is strongly preferred.

    However, to be eligible for prizes, students must abide by the following clause:

    The eCTF is open to individuals who have registered for the competition with the MITRE Corporation, and are hereby known as Contestants. A Contestant is eligible for Prizes if they are a current high school or college student within the United States and are a United States Citizen. Void where prohibited. All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply. MITRE reserves the right to verify eligibility and to adjudicate on any dispute at any time.
    What does MITRE provide to help?

    MITRE provides teams with a reference implementation, embedded hardware (and/or hardware emulator), and technical guidance. 

    Does the eCTF cost anything?

    Participation in the eCTF is entirely free. MITRE will provide the resources to complete the competition, however teams may choose to purchase additional resources to aid with development or attacking. 

    Are there awards?

    Winning teams receive a cash prize, publicity from MITRE, and typically earn accolades from their university as well. The prize amount for 2023 will be announced at the kickoff, though the 2022 eCTF awarded $5,000 in prizes. Students have used their participation in eCTF to build resumes, present at conferences, and open the door to valuable internship and career opportunities, including engineering positions at MITRE and Riverside Research. 

    Can I earn college credits?

    Most students can earn college credit. Work with your professor(s) / faculty advisor to determine how to earn credit at your institution. Remember that this is a significant time commitment, typically commensurate with the credit hours you may receive. An example syllabus is available from the eCTF organizers upon request.

    What level of experience is required to compete?

    We encourage teams of all levels of experience to compete in the eCTF and aim to make the eCTF accessible to students new to security and embedded systems. We do recommend an understanding of development in C and Python, as the reference design will be implmented in those languages.

    However, while the competition may be approachable, the depth of embedded systems enables teams with more experience to attempt more advanced countermeasures and attacks, providing an engaging experience for students of all levels of experience.

    How do I sign up?

    When team registration opens in September, work with your faculty advisor to fill out this form.

    Individual competitor regitration will open in December.

    Do I need to travel for the competition?

    The competition can be done 100% remotely. MITRE will provide teams with hardware and/or servers to develop and compete on. Once teams have a completed design, they submit the code to MITRE for testing and MITRE will ensure that all challenge requirements are met. Once this verification process is completed, your implementation (source code and protected binaries) will be provided to all of the attacking teams.

    After the competition concludes, MITRE hosts an award ceremony in April where teams are invited to share in their accomplishments, meet participants from other schools, interact with MITRE staff, and see the final standings revealed! Prior to COVID, this award ceremony was in-person at MITRE in Bedford, MA, but has been a virtual event for the past 3 years. Plans for the 2023 award ceremony will be announced at kick-off in January 2023.

    Other questions?

    Please contact the eCTF team at ectf@mitre.org

    QUESTIONS? EMAIL US AT ECTF@MITRE.ORG

    MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government. MITRE works with industry and academia to apply science, technology, and systems engineering that enables the government and the private sector to make better decisions. Learn more at www.mitre.org

    Riverside Research is a not-for-profit organization advancing scientific research in the interest of National Security. Through the company's Open Innovation Center (OIC), it invests in multi-disciplinary research and development and encourages collaboration to accelerate innovation and advance science. Research areas include: AI/ML, Trusted and Resilient Systems, Optics, Electromagnetics, Commercial ISR, and Collection Planning. Learn more at www.riversideresearch.org