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Capture The Flag NULLify event at UNO

Every year UNO holds a CTF (Capture The Flag) event, hosted by NULLify. But his game doesn't involve physical flags. They are inside computer code


Cooper "Hacker Man" Sheets types away on his keyboard.

Photo illustration by Kennedy Sautter

Photo illustration by Kennedy Sautter

Cooper "Hacker Man" Sheets types away on his keyboard.

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Cyber-security is one of the fastest growing industries with the rise of technology, so naturally with this growth comes demand. Problem is, less people are interested in coding because of the common stigma of coding being for “smart” people, so then rises the challenge of breaking this stereotype, and this is exactly what the students of UNO do every year.

The students of the cyber-security club at UNO, along with certain professors, plan an event every year to both challenge those who already know about computer science and to introduce those who haven’t learned anything about computers in their life.

“The UNO cyber-security team is called NULLify,” PLHS teacher Victor Icenogle said. “The event that they hold based on different cyber-security topics, the event is based on puzzles and it’s a big opportunity for students to learn about the world of computers.”

The students of NULLify UNO focus every year on organizing this event, which consists of many challenges based on certain topics ranging from Steganography, hiding codes in pictures, to Web Exploitation-the act of using HTML code to essentially hack websites in order to find and change certain aspects of the website.

The event allows students to have certain opportunities that others who are interested in computer science don’t, such as access to people who specialize in this field and seeing the problems worked out right in front of them. This not only increases awareness of this STEM field, it also gives students a taste of what they would learn in the UNO courses.

“The opportunities that students have are being at a competition with people of similar interests,” Icenogle said. “They will be able to learn and experience new things. All around, it’s a great time and fun for everyone.”

Over 24 teams of up to six people meet up in UNO’s Peter Kiewit Center and compete in the challenges.The teams are from all over the state. Some, are small town students traveling hours just to learn about computers. PLHS brings two teams to the event and each team is made up of six members.

“PLHS has gone for about four years,” Icenogle said. “Each year we have fun and do a lot, and each year changes a little so it keeps us on our toes.”

PLHS has two different teams comprising of the best and brightest of the computer science students and those who just want to learn what computers can offer them. With this in mind, these students offer unique perspectives on how to solve problems in this competition.

Austin Neece


Austin Neece and Casey Wallace attempt one of the Flash Challenges.


PLHS student Austin Neece was a part of team-A, PLHS’ first team. They finished in eighth place and completed many challenges, all while sharing a room with many other teams. Fortunately, they did not have the technical difficulties that team-B was experiencing, so they were able to get more points earlier on.

“We did fairly well and we had a really laid-back room,” Neece said. “Most people messed around, but we kept on track and it really paid off.”

Team-A mainly focused on Parsing and Exploitations as this team had the specializations among the competitors to do so. The parsing and searching challenges consisted of searching through data and decrypting data, and exploitation mainly focused on HTML code or finding flaws in coding in order to bypass password screens and websites. During these challenges, they had fun while working as a team instead of working alone.

“There were lots of different types of challenges,” Neece said. “They ranged from basic decryption to tough parsing challenges, there we also some flash challenges that we tried.”

The main difference between team-A and team-B was their skill level. Each team had different levels of expertise, but team-A definitely had the upper hand in terms of computer science knowledge.

No matter the difference in skill, both team-A and team-B made memories that will last.

“Sure I learned a lot that I didn’t know, but for me it was more for the memories,” Neece said. “I had fun with my friends, met new people, and did cool stuff, and it beats not going if I’m being honest.”

For the difference between team-A and team-B’s skill, the main thing that kept them together was representing the Monarchs at UNO and making memories that would last forever.

Austin Neece and Casey Wallace after completing a flash challenge walk accept their points.


Riley Beacom

Riley Beacom looks over the monitor at the camera.


For senior Riley Beacom, the event could’ve gone smoother. As a part of team-B, they had a rickety start, but flew through challenges in the last stretch. Finishing in 12th of the 24 teams in attendance.

“We didn’t do so well in the beginning. We had lots of technical difficulties during the first few hours,” Beacom said. “We did manage to pull it back near the end though; between the flash challenges and the cryptology we did alright.”

Team-B had problems connecting to servers during the first two hours of the event, meaning they could not access the challenges and complete them for points, leading to a quick drop in morale. Around the third hour in the event, many competitors in team-B were working hard to score quickly to catch up.


It was around the time that the flash challenges were introduced that team-B started to climb the score board. The flash challenges consisted of a lock with a code, which was the date that the first comprehensive cyber-security report was issued. The second was a puzzle which consisted of a torn note that held the code. For many students, this offered a much-needed escape from the computer screen; this challenge was many students’ favorite part.

“My favorite part was how much fun I was having,” Beacom said. “I liked how many different opportunities there were to score points, from the flash challenges to this one where we had to find an address in Google Maps and use it to shut down a power grid.”

It was these different challenges and pathways that really helped students learn the different pieces to computer science, all the while, testing their knowledge and problem-solving skills. Learning new ways to solve issues out of their expertise was a key component for the students participating, but those who understood how computers functioned obviously had an advantage.

“I didn’t learn a lot because I knew stuff from me just being interested in computers,” Beacom said. “So most of the challenge came from trying to remember what I’d learned, though, I did have fun talking and hanging out with friends.”

Even though team-B didn’t score as high as team-A, they gave it their all and ended up benefiting from fast action even if the servers weren’t on their side.

The servers were crashing, so team-B had trouble accessing challenges.




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About the Writer
Kennedy Sautter, PlPulse Editor-in-chief
Kennedy is a 2nd year staff member, and is the Editor-in-chief for the PlPulse. Kennedy enjoys playing video games and watching movies. Kennedy is a senior at PLHS and is excited to work with the staff for his final year of high-school.
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Capture The Flag NULLify event at UNO