Cybersecurity In-Depth

The Edge

10K Hackers Defend the Planet Against Extraterrestrials

Hack the Planet's Cyber Apocalypse capture-the-flag contest attracts 10,000 competitors from across the globe.

Extraterrestrial hackers pelted Earth with a hideous array of cyberattacks in a nefarious effort to take over the planet -- and during Earth Day celebrations, no less. Fortunately, thousands of volunteer security defenders were at the ready to save the planet.   

So goes the tale of "Cyber Apocalypse 2021," the first capture-the-flag (CTF) competition that Hack the Box (HTB) opened up to any and all players across the globe. HTB has a dedicated CTF platform, which has been used to host closed CTF events for universities and businesses. As Daphne Deiktaki, Hack the Box's head of marketing, said in an interview before the event, Cyber Apocalypse was different because, "We are inviting absolutely everyone in the world. Anyone can join."

By the time the CTF event closed Friday, 4,470 teams and 9,900 individual players had participated and collectively submitted over 23,000 flags. 

Why the week of Earth Day? "The message is, 'It's only you who can save us from this terrible fate,'" said Deiktaki. "It's a way of raising awareness of environmental issues and educating people about cybersecurity at the same time."

Challenges were created by subject matter experts from Hack the Box and partner CryptoHack, and ranged from difficulty level "beginner" to "insane." The tasks fell into seven categories: Web, Pwn, Reversing, Cryptography, Forensics, Hardware, and Miscellaneous.

The most dominant flag catchers of the tournament were teams AIGenerated, HackTheCardboardBox, and bootplug. They didn't just earn top bragging rights either. Prizes included cash, swag, VIP memberships, and credits for training courses, for a total value of US$16,000.

Another big winner of the event:, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to computer science education and increasing participation by young women and students from underrepresented groups.

"We wanted to give back," Deiktaki said. "We wanted to find organizations that were close to our mission. And just seemed like a great match." The Cyber Apocalypse event raised $3,000 for the organization. 

And the final big winner: Planet Earth, which wasn't taken over by extraterrestrials. (Probably.)

Deiktaki said the global community CTF will be annual, and Cyber Apocalypse was just the beginning. She also hinted that HTB is planning something special for July, but she didn't say anymore than that.