McAfee ATR Launches Education-Inspired Capture the Flag Contest!

McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research team just completed its second annual capture the flag (CTF) contest for internal employees. Based on tremendous internal feedbackwe’ve decided to open it up to the public, starting with a set of challenges we designed in 2019.  

We’ve done our best to minimize guesswork and gimmicks and instead of flashy graphics and games, we’ve distilled the kind of problems we’ve encountered many times over the years during our research projects. Additionally, as this contest is educational in nature, we won’t be focused as much on the winners of the competition. The goal is for anyone and everyone to learn something new. However, we will provide a custom ATR challenge coin to the top 5 teams (one coin per team). All you need to do is score on 2 or more challenges to be eligible. When registering for the contest, make sure to use a valid email address so we can contact you.  

The ATR CTF will open on Friday, February 5th at 12:01pm PST and conclude on Thursday, February 18th, at 11:59pm PST.  

Click Here to Register! 

​​​​​​​If you’ve never participated in a CTF before, the concept is simple. You will: 

  • Choose the type of challenge you want to work on, 
  • Select a difficulty level by point value, 
  • Solve the challenge to find a ‘flag,’ and 
  • Enter the flag for the corresponding points.​​​​​

NOTE: The format of all flags is ATR[], placing the flag,  between the square brackets. For example: ATR[1a2b3c4d5e]. The flag must be submitted in full, including the ATR and square bracket parts.

The harder the challenge, the higher the points!  Points range from 100 to 500. All CTF challenges are designed to practice real-world security concepts, and this year’s categories include: 

  • Reverse engineering 
  • Exploitation 
  • Web 
  • Hacking Tools 
  • Crypto 
  • RF (Radio Frequency) 
  • Mobile 
  • Hardware

The contest is set up to allow teams as groups or individuals. If you get stuck, a basic hint is available for each challenge, but be warned – it will cost ​​​​​​​you points to access the hint and should only be used as a last resort.  

Read before hacking: CTF rules and guidelines 

McAfee employees are not eligible for prizes in the public competition but are welcome to compete. 

When registering, please use a valid email address, for any password resets and to be contacted for prizes. We will not store or save any email addresses or contact you for any non-contest related reasons.

Please wait until the contest ends to release any solutions publicly. 


No cooperation between teams with independent accounts. Sharing of keys or providing/revealing hints to other teams is cheating, please help us keep this contest a challenge for all! 

Attacking the Platform 

Please refrain from attacking the competition infrastructure. If you experience any difficulties with the infrastructure itself, questions can be directed to the ATR team using the email in the Contact Us section. ATR will not provide any additional hints, feedback, or clues. This email is only for issues that might arise, not related to individual challenges. 


Absolutely no sabotaging of other competing teams, or in any way hindering their independent progress. 

Brute Forcing 

No brute forcing of challenge flag/ keys against the scoring site is accepted or required to solve the challenges. You may perform brute force attacks if necessary, on your own endpoint to determine a solution if needed. If you’re not sure what constitutes a brute force attack, please feel free to contact us. 


DoSing the CapturetheFlag (CTF) platform or any of the challenges is forbidden

Additional rules are posted within the contest following login and should be reviewed by all contestants prior to beginning.

Many of these challenges are designed with Linux end-users in mind. However, if you are a Windows user, Windows 10 has a Linux subsystem called ‘WSL’ that can be useful, or a Virtual Machine can be configured with any flavor of Linux desired and should work for most purposes.​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​Happy hacking! 

Looking for a little extra help? 

Find a list of useful tools and techniques for CTF competitions. While it’s not exhaustive or specifically tailored to this contest, it should be a useful starting point to learn and understand tools required for various challenges. 

Contact Us 

While it may be difficult for us to respond to emails, we will do our best – please use this email address to reach us with infrastructure problems, errors with challenges/flag submissions, etc. We are likely unable to respond to general questions on solving challenges. 

How much do you know about McAfee’s ​​​​​​​industry-leading research team? 

ATR is a team of security researchers that deliver cutting-edge vulnerability and malware research, red teaming, operational intelligence and more! To read more about the team and some of its highlighted research, please follow this link to the ATR website. 

General Release Statement 

By participating in the contest, you agree to be bound to the Official Rules and to release McAfee and its employees, and the hosting organization from any and all liability, claims or actions of any kind whatsoever for injuries, damages or losses to persons and property which may be sustained in connection with the contest. You acknowledge and agree that McAfee et al is not responsible for technical, hardware or software failures, or other errors or problems which may occur in connection with the contest.  By participating you allow us to publish your name.  The collection and use of personal information from participants will be governed by the McAfee Private Notice.  

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