Interested in cybersecurity research?

CTF’s Apprenticeship Program hosts individuals from around the world who want to experience the collaboration and culture of cybersecurity research at ASU.

These are paid, short-term positions – usually lasting about six months – and take place on campus in Tempe, Arizona. Apprentices work alongside distinguished faculty and graduate students on projects specific to their interests, and have plenty of opportunities to play Capture the Flag on the side!

Frequently asked questions

The apprenticeship is a paid research position to:
a) get exposure to academic research in cybersecurity
b) help advance the state-of-the-art, and
c) have an amazing time!

It takes place at our Tempe, Arizona campus. Unfortunately, we cannot support remote work for this opportunity. The time commitment is generally 32 hours per week for about six months, and it is intended for people who are either not students or who can take full time from their studies to pursue research.

A research apprenticeship serves several purposes:

  1. The apprenticeship exposes you to the environment of a world-class cybersecurity research lab and conveys what it means to conduct impactful research.
  2. Because you will be carrying out cutting-edge academic research, the apprenticeship can act as a “preview” of a PhD program for those that are curious about graduate school, but not yet ready to commit.
  3. The apprenticeship exposes you to prominent researchers in the field, giving you valuable interpersonal connections for future pursuits within and outside of academia.
  4. Because your work will be on the cutting edge, you will be exposed to emerging concepts and technologies (for example, binary analysis and angr at a more fundamental level than just by cloning them on github).
  5. For students in programs that encourage some amount of research (for example, a Master’s thesis) to be done as a visiting scholar in an external institution, the apprenticeship provides a place to do that under the supervision of experienced advisors.

Apprenticeships are carried out under the guidance of Center leadership, Yan Shoshitaishvili (known in the CTF scene as Zardus), Adam Doupé (adamd), Ruoyu (Fish) Wang (fish), and Tiffany Bao (__tiffanyb__). Yan, Adam, Fish, and Tiffany are prominent researchers with dozens of top-tier cybersecurity publications between them, and avid CTF players (having played and hosted CTFs with Shellphish, the ASU Hacking ClubOrder of the Overflow, and Nautilus Institute).

The length of the apprenticeship is flexible, though we aim for around six months.

Yes, this is a paid apprenticeship! To properly set expectations: academia has less money to leverage than industry. Though it varies slightly, an apprentice is usually supported at a rate around $2,500 per month. To put that into perspective in terms of living costs, here is the median rental price for a studio apartment in Tempe.

You will be responsible for finding your own place to live, and there are several useful routes to doing so:

  • You can find apartments on PadMapper and
  • There’s a Facebook group you can join, in which ASU students post if they’re looking for roommates or subleasing their rooms. 
  • Depending on availability, ASU has guest housing at prices starting at $70/night for up to a year, depending on the specific amenities that you desire. Note: Space is extremely limited, and cannot be confirmed more than 90 days in advance.
  • Students in the lab and hackers in our CTF team sometimes have spare rooms available as well. Once you are accepted into the apprenticeship program, we can add you to the relevant Slack workspaces and mailing lists to get in touch with them.

We recommend focusing on the Tempe area, so you’re around campus. The majority of your time will be spent in the Brickyard building, and that map also shows all of campus so you can get an idea of what areas to focus in on. If you don’t have housing figured out before you arrive, don’t panic! Airbnb and the numerous hotels in the area provide temporary lodging opportunity.

Public transportation is fairly well-developed in Tempe. You have several options:

  • Tempe runs a series of frequent free shuttles between ASU and surrounding areas. This vastly expands the range of areas where it is reasonable to live without a car. More information about public transportation options can be found here.

Tempe and the surrounding areas operate a light rail system that reaches across much of the Greater Phoenix Area. From ASU, it takes about an hour to go all the way northwest on the rail and about 30 minutes to go all the way east. The rail is not free.

You will have a lot of freedom (and also much guidance) in terms of what to work on. Some possibilities are:

  1. Senior PhD students in the lab often have brilliant project ideas that they simply do not have the bandwidth to pursue. Upon your arrival, students will pitch such projects (vetted by the professors) to you.
  2. The professors always have project ideas that they simply do not have the bandwidth to pursue. They will also pitch these ideas to you.
  3. You might (though this is rare and by no means required) arrive with ideas of what you want to work on. If this is the case, the professors will work with you to vet that the project has enough depth for an apprenticeship.

After the professors and students discuss possible projects with you, you should carefully deliberate on which ones interest you the most. This should not be done fast—taking several weeks to choose a project is perfectly okay. Take your time, clarify any uncertainties, and then dive in with confidence!

You will almost always be paired with a PhD student who will act as a research mentor (in addition to the SEFCOM professors). This will usually be the student whose brilliant idea you choose to turn into a reality. If you choose an idea pitched by a professor, or come up with your own, and feel that

Usually, your project will end up being a self-contained project that results in an academic publication. Writing academic papers is an awesome experience, and your student mentor and the professors will help you through the process. This does not absolutely have to be the case. If you are very passionate about doing a project focused fully on implementation (i.e., developing some awesome CTF tool as opposed to an awesome new program analysis approach), and have no external requirements to produce a paper (such as a Master’s thesis), this is fine as well.

It is important to note that, in the end, this apprenticeship is more for you than it is for us. A good outcome (and we will strive to help you get there) is awesome for everyone. A bad outcome (and these, unfortunately, do happen) is not the end of the world. Bad outcome here means that no progress is made and nothing is produced. This is not to make the apprenticeship seem insignificant, but to relieve the pressure: our lives do not hang on your performance—don’t panic! Of course, if you’re looking for a letter of recommendation from us, shoot for the good outcome.

We have weekly meetings of the whole lab where everyone presents their progress, along with on-demand as-needed one-on-one sessions. You should be present at these meetings (or let us know of your absence in advance) even when you have not made progress. Research sometimes progresses in bursts, and you sometimes need to sit back and think on things for a while. This is fine, and we are absolutely accepting of it, but we like to know what’s going on so that we can help if you’re blocked.

Yes! We all strongly believe in open access to research, and barring weird unforeseen circumstances, you will be encouraged to open source your projects as soon as the associated paper is published (or your apprenticeship ends if there is no paper outcome).

We love to CTF! Whether it’s with the ASU Hacking Club or Shellphish, there will be plenty of opportunities. If you like to CTF, then CTF will be a fundamental part of your apprenticeship. Come hack with us, develop ideas inspired by CTF, and help push the community forward!

We don’t expect you to be a robot (although if you are, beep boop beep). Tempe and the surrounding area are home to lots of awesome activities, including comedy clubs, boat rentals on the lake adjacent to campus, escape rooms, laser tag, countless art, wine, and culture festivals, skating rinks, theaters, and so on. The city of Tempe has a lot to offer!

Tempe is also well-positioned for exploring the rest of the US. To begin with, the Grand Canyon, one of the most impressive natural attractions in the US, is about four hours north. Mexico is a short drive south. Los Angeles and San Diego are short drives west. On top of this, Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport ($15 Uber ride from ASU) is a major airport hub, with nonstop flights to most of the US.

Do not spend your apprenticeship locked in the lab. This is a great opportunity to explore Tempe, Arizona, and (if you’re from abroad) the US.

We aim to have applications available twice per year, once in the early spring (for summer/fall starts) and once in the summer (for winter starts). This is contingent on funding availability. The application link will be posted on this website, and will direct you to one of ASU’s job portals. If you would like to receive a notification when the next application is live, please use the “Contact CTF” form that is linked below.

If you’re interested in the apprenticeship and the application isn’t open, we strongly recommend you reach out to Dr. Yan Shoshitaishvili ([email protected]) to introduce yourself, and include the following information:

  • who you are
  • what is your current academic status
  • what general areas of cybersecurity interest you
  • what are your tentative future plans (PhD, CTF, industry, etc.)
  • when you are hoping to do the CTF apprenticeship
  • how long do you want to stay, and, if this number is currently under 6 months, whether there is a chance that it will increase to over 6 months (as this requires a different visa if you are coming from out of the country)
  • your resume or CV
  • your CTF, open source, and research experience (if it’s not in your resume, which it should be!)

Note to international applicants: After you submit your application, you may receive an automated decline based on ineligibly to work in the US without sponsorship. Fear not, your application will be reviewed even if you receive this message!

Note to ASU students: This opportunity is mainly intended for individuals who are not currently affiliated with ASU, as it is a short-term staff position. While you are welcome to apply, positions specifically reserved for ASU students can be found here.

When an application is open, it generally takes a few weeks after the Close Date to hear back from CTF. If invited, we’ll then set up one or more interviews. Then, if tentatively accepted into the program, ASU will run a background check to verify the information provided on your resume. Formal acceptance into this opportunity is contingent on a clear background check.

If you’re a student, the background check process may require you to provide paperwork from your university showing proof of enrollment. If you have graduated, you may be asked to send your transcripts to ASU’s HR office. Once ASU receives the ‘all clear!’ on your background, you’ll receive the official offer of temporary employment and, if you are coming from outside of the US, the DS-2019 that you will use to apply for a J1 visa.

Once you receive the DS-2019, the process is out of our hands and in the hands of your local US embassy. It is very hard to estimate how long the visa application process takes, as it depends on the country in question, international events, and nondeterministic components. Visas have been acquired in a matter of days, and some have taken months. Plan accordingly!

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The apprenticeship application for positions starting in Summer 2024 is CLOSED, as of Wednesday, March 13, 2024 at 3:00 PM (MST).

If you have questions or want receive updates about future applications, please use the contact button.