“The Codebreaker Challenge closely mirrors the real-world scenarios we deal with every day at NSA,” said challenge creator Eric Bryant. “It gives students the opportunity to test their knowledge, build new skills, and develop experience in areas typically not covered by course curricula in cybersecurity.”

NSA Codebreaker Challenge 2021 Now Open

NSA’s annual Codebreaker Challenge offers students a closer look at the type of work done at NSA and provides the opportunity to develop skills needed to achieve the Agency’s national security mission. The problems touch on skills like software reverse engineering, cryptanalysis, exploit development, blockchain analysis, and more. It gives students a hands-on opportunity to develop their reverse-engineering/low-level code analysis skills while working on a realistic problem set centered around the NSA’s mission.

The Challenge is open now and will run until a date late in December. Anyone with an email address from a recognized U.S. school or university may participate. While the challenge is intended for students, faculty are encouraged to participate as well. Furthermore, the site was designed to make it easy for those faculty interested in incorporating the challenge into their courses to do so (see the additional FAQ entries below.)

The 2021 Codebreaker Challenge consists of a series of tasks that are worth a varying amount of points based upon their difficulty. Schools will be ranked according to the total number of points accumulated by their students with the current ranking shown on a leaderboard. Solutions may be submitted at any time for the duration of the Challenge.

While not required, it is recommend that you solve tasks in order, since they flow with the storyline. Later tasks may rely on artifacts / inputs from earlier tasks. Each task in the 2021 challenge will require a range of skills. You will need to call upon all of your technical expertise, your intuition, and your common sense.

NSA provides some helpful resources to get you on the right track with the 2021 Challenge. The list as a starting point. It’s not exhaustive, and you’ll definitely need to do additional research on your own. There are things in this list that aren’t actually part of this year’s challenge. Once you register, you will be able to join the Community of Practice Discord server for the 2021 Codebreaker Challenge. NSA will also hold two technical talks this Fall, giving you a chance to hear from some of NSA’s experts.