Home Coding/Computer Science Hacktivate: Cybersecurity for Grades 6 and Up

Hacktivate: Cybersecurity for Grades 6 and Up

by Miguel Guhlin
Hacktivate Cybersecurity

“I made Hacktivate…because [of]…my daughter,” says Paul Hudson. Hacktivate is a huge, free cybersecurity resource. It’s targeted at children, ages 11-19. It includes 250 capture-the-flag-type activities and a huge simulated hack story. What’s more, Paul says, it’s “100% free!” Let’s take a moment to review a resource cybersecurity educators might want to use. And since October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to start growing student cybersecurity skills.

“There’s a video on the site. It shows how Hacktivate.io works. Plus, [there are] more videos for students that introduce them to key techniques. If you’re a parent of a secondary school kid, send the link to your school. Email hello@hacktivate.io to get an account.”

-Paul Hudson, @twostraws@mastodon.social, Hacktivate.io creator

What is Hacktivate?

Hacktivate.io describes itself in this way on their website:

  • Hacktivate is a capture the flag game for students aged 11-19.
  • It utilizes skills such as coding, encryption, networking, and more.
  • Students solve challenges online via a standard web browser.
  • Schools can create teams and watch students compete against each other.
  • There are 250 unique problems to solve.
  • Hacktivate is completely free for all schools in the United Kingdom to use.

I verified with the creator of Hacktivate that, while it is a UK-based program, Hacktivate is available to schools in the United States. However, dedicated support is not available. If you’re in the U.S., send an email to hello@hacktivate.io from your school or college email account to get started.

Hacktivate Student Login
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate Student Login Page

Types of Available Problems

Students have access to solve 250 unique problems on a range of skills, including:

  • Coding
  • Cryptography
  • Steganography
  • Regular expressions
  • Rainbow tables
  • Networking
  • Hashing
  • DNS

Based on cybersecurity knowledge and skills, Paul has organized problems into distinct categories. These problems (in four categories) allow students to contribute to team success. This is true even if they lack experience in all areas. Once students have completed all the challenges, they face the Big Hack.

Hacktivate Starter Activity
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate.io Student View

The Big Hack

The Big Hack leverages the skills found in individual exercises. This can include JavaScript programming, DNS lookups, cookie manipulation, and GNU/Linux commands. And, of course, this isn’t everything. Students also use a free, open source, web-based security analysis tool. This tool is CyberChef, the cyber “Swiss army knife” of security:

This set of operations encompasses various encoding methods. Some examples include XOR and Base64, advanced encryption techniques, techniques like AES, DES, and Blowfish. Also, generating binary and hexadecimal representations of data and compressing and decompressing data are included. But it doesn’t end there. Calculating hashes and checksums, converting character encodings, and much more are also possible.

What does this mean for students? It means that a powerful resource for gaining cybersecurity knowledge and skills is available. And it’s available at no extra cost.

Hacktivate CyberChef Flow Chart
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate.io Student View

Another benefit? Students are not affected by any real data or websites. What a relief for technology directors and network security administrators!

Mr Roboto Student Cybersecurity Activity
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate.io Student View

Technical Requirements for Hacktivate

Students will need to have access to the following:

  • A computer with a modern web browser (e.g. Chrome, Safari, Firefox)
  • Access to the JavaScript console in the browser
  • Ability to view source functionality
  • Ability to download and inspect files saved to the device (e.g. pictures/scripts)
  • Access to CyberChef

Managing Teams and Students

To get started, send an email to hello@hacktivate.io from your school or college email account. Once you are in, you can start adding students and creating teams. To manage students and teams, Paul points out the following:

Hacktivate Test School view showing the admin console for student cybersecurity activities.
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate.io Admin View

As a school admin, you can create as many teams and student accounts as you want, and test accounts are available. They will all be linked to your school. For each team, you can determine the following:

  • maximum question difficulty you want students to face
  • whether or not students should be visible on your school’s leaderboard
  • whether students should be given hints for free or lose points for using hints
  • whether or not students should have access to The Big Hack final challenge

You can use private-to-school leaderboards to display on a shared screen, refreshing every five seconds. Leaderboards show individual and/or team scores.

Student Cybersecurity Activity Scoreboard
Screenshot by the author: Hacktivate Scoreboard

Video Overview of Hacktivate

Paul Hudson provides an excellent video overview of Hacktivate.io.

As you can see, Paul has done a wonderful job preparing these resources for students in grades 6-16, ages 11-19. These activities can even be useful for adult learners. I had never heard of CyberChef, but given that it’s a free resource, why not use it to learn more? And that’s exactly what Paul offers in Hacktivate: the opportunity for teachers and students to learn and engage in cybersecurity.

Featured Image: Screenshot by author Hacktivate Home Page

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Jeff October 12, 2023 - 11:20 am

From the Web site’s FAQ page:

My school is outside the UK / I homeschool my child – can I use Hacktivate?

Not at this time, sorry. We don’t make any money from running Hacktivate, so our resources are limited.

Miguel Guhlin October 12, 2023 - 1:08 pm

Hi, Jeff. Before publishing the blog entry, I connected with Paul Hudson (the developer). He will grant US-based folks an account, but he can’t provide the same level of support since he’s in the United Kingdom. I DO encourage you to check out the content. The blog entry has been clarified to make that more easily viewable.

With appreciation,


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