5 min read

HTB University CTF 2023 recap

The fifth Hack The Box University CTF comes to an end after three days of intense competition between 6,500 students from all over the world.

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Jan 17

The Hack The Box (HTB) University CTF is an annual Capture The Flag (CTF) event where university and college students compete against each other for fame, prizes, or just for fun.

As long as they possess a valid academic email address, all students can join to play and learn in a state-of-the-art CTF covering multiple topics and difficulties. This year, 18 challenges from six different categories were available for everyone.

Students from all over the world who are passionate about hacking and are willing to test their skills participate. University teams from 94 countries joined the competition to submit 2,270 flags over the weekend. Each team consisted of up to 30 students, a seemingly high threshold that was reached by several teams. 

The competition was a single round Jeopardy-style CTF, built around the concept of a zombie apocalypse happening inside a university campus where the students hack for survival. Aptly named Brains & Bytes, the CTF challenged students to evade zombies and safeguard fellow students by using their hacking skills.

Hack The Box university CTF summary

The winners

It was a close race between 955 teams that resulted in an all-French podium, with only two teams reaching 100% completion. If a zombie apocalypse ever happens, we know which country we are fleeing to. A round of applause for this year’s winners:

  1. Université de Bretagne Sud

  2. ESNA

  3. Ecole 2600

  4. Technical University of Cluj-Napoca

  5. Hasso Plattner Institute

  6. Télécom SudParis 

  7. National Technical University of Athens

  8. Instituto Superior Técnico - IST

  9. Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Informatique

  10.  University of Macedonia

The University CTF Hall of Fame gets a new entry. Behold the list of champions:

HTB university ctf winners

The prizes

This year’s prizes were worth more than $65,000, more than any other year! But the most important thing was that all top-10 teams will get a chance to access our exclusive offering for Universities and further expand their skills. 

First place

  •  Exclusive HTB Trophy.

  •  $3,600 Cash.

  •  1x HTB Academy exam voucher (per player).

  •  1x £100 HTB Swag Card (per player).

  •  90-day access to HTB exclusive offering for academic institutions.

Second place

  • $1,200 Cash.

  • 1x HTB Academy exam voucher (per player).

  • 1x £100 HTB Swag Card (per player).

  •  90-day access to HTB exclusive offering for academic institutions.

Third place

  •  1x HTB Academy exam voucher (per player).

  •  1x £100 HTB Swag Card (per player).

  •  90-day access to HTB exclusive offering for academic institutions.

Fourth-fifth place

  •  1x £100 HTB Swag Card (per player).

  •  90-day access to HTB exclusive offering for academic institutions.

Sixth-tenth place

  •  1x £50 HTB Swag Card (per player).

  •  90-day access to HTB exclusive offering for academic institutions.

Special thanks go to Parrot Security and Red Team Village for sponsoring this year’s event, and helping us reach new heights!

What about the challenges?

This year’s CTF covered all the five main categories, Web, Reversing, Pwn, Forensics, and Crypto. Plus the FullPwn category, which are our infamous boxes with a user and a root flag each. The difficulty ranged from easy to hard, with only the top two  teams being able to solve everything within the timeframe. 

The most solved category was Reverse Engineering, while Pwn seems to have troubled the players the most, as always.

Participating is not only about winning but also about sharing knowledge. That’s why this year, we are also rewarding the best writeups coming from the community. Be sure to follow us on socials where we will share them!

And just in case you got FOMO after reading all this, you can get a taste by going over the challenges yourselves. All the challenges of the CTF will be uploaded as a track on our main platform, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

Survival lessons

In most zombie apocalypse movies, the protagonist meets a battle-hardened veteran to show them the ropes. For this zombie apocalypse event, we had a stream packed with interesting talks on different cybersecurity topics. Namely:

  • Advanced Code Injection by 21y4d

  • You've been Conned! By Sebastian Hague

  • Lies and Hallucinations: Hacking LLMs by Jon ‘Dark’ Peters

  • You can hack Cloud, I Azure you! by Panos ‘Panawesome’ Petsanas

  • Some Forensics Challenges From Last Year by 0xdf

  • Going Beyond Root for Fun and Foundations by Ippsec

Hack The Box for academia

There is no need to wait for next year! You can incorporate HTB into your university curriculum to have a single platform for training, developing, testing, and proving practical, hands-on competence in cybersecurity.


Will someone dethrone France? Will Europe keep dominating the scoreboard? Feeling jealous you missed out?


Author bio: Panos Petsanas (panawesome), Community CTF Project Manager, Hack The Box

Panos Petsanas has worked as a penetration tester for four years and has been a CTF player for much longer. He was a member of HTB before it was cool and his favorite categories are Web and Fullpwn—he's trying to get into Cloud.

As a professional, he specialized in Web and Infrastructure assessments. Panos holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and a Master’s in Information Systems. He also has Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) and Certified Red Team Professional (CRTP) certifications.

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