Two of the teams that reached the CyberCenturion VI National Finals worked entirely remotely during the virtual live rounds. We asked team leaders Paul Harrington and Alan Omnet for their tips on running a remote team successfully.
How do we set up the environment when we’re all working remotely?
This really is no different to having a team working on separate machines in the same room – the set up is just the same. Each team member needs to load the virtual machines into VMWare Workstation, which Alan found reliable, on their own machines. Watch our technical walkthrough for support on this.
Logistics – the key differences for remote working team
Timetabling: Rather than being restricted to a school or session timetable the team can choose when it wants to do its training and work together. Weekends, evenings or even early morning sessions are up for grabs for a remote working team.
Sharing resources: Teams need to share materials with each other, chat through problems and make notes that everyone can see. Working with collaboration tools like Slack or Dropbox can actually be easier than trying to use these tools on a restricted network (such as a school network). Sharing resources can be far simpler online as they could share notes and screens throughout the process at any time of the day and they can use screen sharing apps such as Discord, Slack, Google Meet etc. as well as screen shots and note sharing to ensure you all train together in the best way.
How do we train?
This is no different for a remote working team. There are lots of materials on the CyberCenturion hub, including a brand new set of training guides for 2020/21 developed by CyberCenturion VI finalists, Matthew Dawson and Harry Suggett (St George’s School Edgbaston).
Paul and Alan recommended that the team use the CyberCenturion practice images supplied at the start of the competition as well as some vanilla Windows and Linux images. This allowed them to practice using built-in operating system tools as well as publicly available tools which could be freely downloaded. And for further practice, they also suggested Hack The Box.
How often should we chat outside of competition rounds?
Both Paul and Alan emphasised that good communication is key to any successful team, but particularly to a remote team. They recommend you set up a group on Discord, Slack, WhatsApp, Signal etc. and stay in regular communication to ensure you form a strong bond and learn from each other.
Alan’s team used Discord Server for text chat to organise the competition round setup and for the team to communicate during rounds, with the team also using voice channels on discord to discuss what they are up to and coordinate who is working on which CyberCenturion image. They also used Google Docs for sharing team notes and checklists for the competition.
It may be a good idea to have a go at another CTF together or all try and complete a Hack The Box challenge at the same time.
What are the challenges involved in working with a dispersed team?
Ensure that you manage who has access to each server at one time. It is best to take turns or for each person to work on different servers.
Getting used to working on Discord, Slack etc. can take some time so it is best to get used to it to ensure sharing screens, screenshots or videos becomes second nature. Try and set up regular video conferences to try and re-create the IRL experience.
What are your top tips for preparing a remote team for the Finals?
- Compile individual checklists, as the online checklists are all limited in their scope. By preparing your own checklist, you are able to fully understand the items and work fluently.
- Test access to the servers using some default Ubuntu, Windows 10 and Windows Server virtual machine images.
- Set up virtual comms for text and voice based chat, as well as something for storing useful documents such as checklists.
- Get the team together to compete in some on-line Capture the Flag/Hack The Box competitions to get used to working remotely and learning the team members strengths.
- Ensure you complete the practice CyberCenturion images.