Let's talk about DtW

🐉 [Cheerfulbull]
11 months ago | edited 11 months ago


4 years ago, back when this site was still known as HackThis!, @HackingGuy made a new thread: https://defendtheweb.net/discussion/43155-call-for-new-levels which noted that the site was “pretty dead”. However, the thread was closed 3 years later following the creation of Defend the Web. However, I believe the thread should be rebooted. @HackingGuy , in that very thread said, quote “Please let me reiterate, this post is not meant to degrade the site, I’m just simply worried about the future of the site.” I could not have phrased it better. A number of top users seem to have quit, and most new ones don’t move past the relatively easy challenges. Part of that is that the absence of users creates a negative feedback loop of people becoming inactive precisely because a lot of people are inactive. I believe another part of that is that there is a relatively small amount of challenges. Most people move past most bronze challenges, do some silver challenges, and then give up because a lot of challenges are too hard. Others quit because they’ve done pretty much all the challenges. I believe this can change. If you know anyone who wants to learn information security, suggest this site to them! I also believe we should try to add some new challenges. I believe if we made some new Ideas over in the playground Ideas section, perhapse @flabbyrabbit will add some of them. But I don’t know. I haven’t been around for the HackThis! era, and don’t know what the special charm of it was that led to so many people joining. Neither do I know why they quit. What I do know, however, is that a number of devoted members(by which I define anyone with a gold moderator status) are still active users: @Kaldah , @mortfeus , @flabbyrabbit , @DIDIx13 , @HackingGuy , and probably a bunch of others I missed. Perhaps you people can help. Or perhaps this forum post is just a stupid idea. But I wont know until I try. So here it is. Please pitch ideas in replies, if you have any :)

Luke [flabbyrabbit]
11 months ago


Hi @Cheerfulbull,

It’s great that you care enough about this site to make this post in the first place!

People grow up, move on and their priorities change. 15 years ago when I first made HackThis!! I was in my teens and had all the free time in the world to not only make and maintain this site but also actively participate in the forum/IRC. Back then there was a core membership who all devoted their time to keep the site active by engaging with the community. This kept the site fresh and like you said stale content leads to no interactions which results in even less content.

I do harp back to the heyday of HackThis!! but unfortunately the internet is a completely different beast then. The current Redit debacle is a prime example of how far we have come from individual niche sites with thriving communities.

As you have pointed out new users tend to complete a handful of levels, get disheartened/bored and drop off. The main goal would be to support those users to stick around so they can both complete more levels but also contribute to the community. This is a difficult balance to strike as most users don’t want to trawl through forum threads to see if their question has been answered before but equally we don’t want everyone posting “help, I’m stuck” zero effort threads. I had toyed with a mentorship feature that paired stuck users with others who had completed the level and were willing to help.

More levels might well keep the top 1% of users on the site but these would need to be released regularly which I personally don’t find maintainable. This is not to say I don’t want to add more challenging levels to break up the leaderboard.

A further problem is with the site itself. During the last rebuild I was too ambitious with the features I wanted to include and as such most of them are barely working and none are working how I had envisioned. For example adding new articles and levels is too time consuming and I am instantly demoralised when I try to add new content. Forum moderation however has been a great success with thousands of votes being cast on moderation decisions. This has greatly reduced the amount of crud sticking around in the forum for ages until I had time to remove it.

That’s all a lot of fluff for me to say that I have no solutions to these issues. These are what stick out in my mind atm (in no particular order):

  • Fix the broken levels
  • Remove complexity around adding new articles and levels
  • Add new level categories so they can appeal to both new and old members
  • Follow along with me series for new members to be guided through some levels (my editorial skills are the main block here)
  • Call to action emails to nudge new members to come back and try again/ask for help in the forum
  • Short ELI5 articles on a wide variety of topics
  • Encourage/participate in random link sharing/discussion. All the top forum threads are fun games/random chat

I’m open to suggestions/criticism/support/hate. Any noise is encouraging!

Thanks again @Cheerfulbull for starting this thread … maybe it’ll get some traction

11 months ago


I am still here, from the old Hackthis! days. I really enjoy this site, even if I only site here stuck on a level for days (months) on end. I find it enjoyable to read the comments by both new and veteran members. I enjoy helping new members when I can, and try to leave comments as well. I’m looking forward to remaining active here, usually on a daily basis. Nice to see others want the same!

11 months ago | edited 11 months ago


Real, we need to revive the website. It’s always a pleasure to practice hacking here (even if I have to go crazy with the Dante Inferno level)

🐉 [Cheerfulbull]
11 months ago


Hello Everyone!

Thank you all for replying to my post!

First of all, Long time no see @Sevenowl and @flabbyrabbit ! I thought you both might have been inactive!
And @mortfeus , yes I’ve been trying to do something with Dante’s Inferno, with help from @Kaldah , and this challenge looks insanely hard.

Y'all have amazing Ideas, which shouldn’t be suprising given that everyone of you is still active on a site that requires insight and creativity. The mentorship, and article/levels ideas look especially promising. I’m also glad to see that I’m not the only one keen to see this website revived. Other than that, I’m partly at fault here. I’ve been thinking of writing an article/submitting a challenge to the ideas section, but never got aruond to doing any of that XD but that doesn’t matter that much. Yes, the internet appears to have changed a lot. But maybe, just maybe, Niche and Mass websites will strike balance at some point, and be able to co-exist. This website is one of the best CTF websites out there because of the community focus. I believe that is what kept this site afloat for so long, and will continue doing that for years to come.

Once again, thank you all for contributing :)

f0rk [HackingGuy]
10 months ago


I love this website. But I have to agree with @flabbyrabbit , times have changed and keeping up has been a bit of a hassle. I would be interested in investing more time to re-create a dedicated community though!

I’m not sure how keen our faithful administrator is to the idea, but I would love if the “top” (some top ranking moderators and/or special privileged users that have shown dedication to the site) could create and vote on new levels, similar to how we do articles. Granted, ultimately there would have to be some interjection with our admin to enable some services and pages, but most of the up front development work could be done!

Also, there are a variety of things that could be improved upon with PRs to the gitlab. We could absolutely start there. That could make changes to the site more accessible and cost effective for flabby.


10 months ago


I would be interested in helping out around here as well. I’ve been here for years, and love this place. Would love to see a more active community of sorts here! Let me know if theres anything I can do to help!


@mortfeus Hahaha, you’re welcome.

I think @flabbyrabbit said it all. Times changes, people will come and go and it’s always nice to see the community evolving rather than dying.
The site is here, It just need a spark. I still come from time to time but I’m not as active as I used be. I wouldn’t mind helping with those broken levels, I’m sure others too but I assume it’s a critical components that cannot be shared easily and with anyone.

As a previous hacking community used to say:

Today’s newbies are tomorrow’s hackers.
— Mimoune

@Keeper used to do a tremendous help writing articles and teach us all. Bring the Squirrel Back !

9 months ago


The problem is websites like HackThisSite are too old, and websites like DefendTheWeb are meant to be a challenge but are off putting to newbies. These lazy teens today would rather have their hand held through TryHackMe style websites which make them feel all warm and fuzzy inside, rather than actually learning and challenging themselves.

My feedback for this site would be to allow custom challenges, would be easy enough to allow people to upload a PHP file with some vulnerability in it or something…

9 months ago


would you be opposed to a leaderboard?
theres a gap- pwnable.tw is completely abandoned, and personally ive never liked kr either from a pure usability standpoint
along the same lines- memory corruption chals would be top tier

🐉 [Cheerfulbull]
9 months ago


What kind of leaderboard do you mean?

9 months ago | edited 9 months ago | reply to #91970


like assign points for challenges, and have a global leaderboard with names and top scores- announce when new challenges will be released maybe a week ahead of time?

my CTF team always used to race to try to get to the top, because we knew other teams were doing the same. Also it gave beginners (like I was, at the time) arbitrary goals, like “get my name on the front page” (top 100). Tiebreaks are done by earliest person to reach a scoreline.

as far as i know, there isnt a website with the same variety of challenges that this website has, and a similar leaderboard mechanic. Most that do it this way are ancient wargaming platforms that are focused on memory corruption, but when i was leading the team i didnt have an equivilant for web or crypto that i could recommend

9 months ago


Hello ! There is a leaderboard but it’s named “statistics” https://defendtheweb.net/statistics
There are two type of points, the ones from challenges and the others is more global, it counts the activity on the website too

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