YOUNG girls from across the country will pit their codebreaking skills against one another in a series of head-scratching online challenges to crown the UK’s brightest cyber minds.
Registration for the online phase of the 2018 CyberFirst Girls Competition, run by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, opens today [Tuesday, 16 January].
NCSC and GCHQ experts have devised 100 challenges of varying difficulty for female pupils aged 12 to 13 to complete during the online phase.
The entrants’ intellect and cyber skills will be tested as they decrypt a series of specially-created logic boxes and regex (regular expression) crosswords.
8,000 girls took part in last year’s inaugural competition, and this year’s top 10 scoring teams will be invited to take part in a live national head-to-head final in Manchester in March 2018.
Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Skills and Growth, said:
“We want to inspire the next generation of tech-savvy young women to consider a career in cyber security and make a positive impact on the world.
“Females are worryingly under-represented in the global cyber workforce, but there are exceptionally talented girls in our schools.
“We hope this competition can help to knock down some of the barriers holding them back.”
The competition is for girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland and Year 9 in Northern Ireland. They can enter in teams of up to four, along with a teacher who will act as a mentor and guardian.
This year’s winning school will receive a grand prize of £1,000 towards their school’s IT equipment, while each winner will take home individual prizes.
It is hoped that the fun contest could spark a lifelong interest in the girls that could be turned into a fulfilling career in cyber security, helping make the UK one of the safest places to live and do business online.
Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, said:
“GCHQ is committed to protecting the digital homeland and making the UK safest place to live online.
“We need the best and brightest people – girls and boys – with a passion for technology, who can deliver the nation’s cyber security.
“Too often, society limits girls in what they aspire to achieve. Our CyberFirst Girls Competition will give teams the opportunity to develop new skills, meet new people and gain an exciting insight into the world of national security. I hope many of you and your friends will be inspired to enter – and perhaps take the prize!”
While the NCSC offers free CyberFirst courses for 11 to 17-year-old males and females, this contest is aimed specifically at female pupils because women make up only 10 per cent of the global cyber workforce. This means a huge swathe of talent in the UK are potentially missing out on a career they could excel in.
Last year, ten teams of finalists progressed to the national final, where a team from Lancaster Girls Grammar School were judged the winners.
Mrs Jackie Cahalin, Headteacher Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School (CyberFirst Girls 2017 winners), said:
“We will certainly be entering again – all our pupils who entered really enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the initial activities.
“Our winning team gained so much from being able to take part in the final in London. They particularly enjoyed the opportunities to use cutting edge technology, compete against and meet other young women interested in cyber security and code cracking as well as presenting to representatives from leading IT companies.
“Our team are now definitely considering careers in Computer Science and we are seeing increased take up at both GCSE and A level.”
The NCSC provides a single, central body for cyber security at a national level and is the UK’s technical authority on cyber. It manages national cyber security incidents, carries out real-time threat analysis and provides tailored sectoral advice. GCHQ is the parent body for the Centre, meaning that it can draw on the organisation’s world-class skills and sensitive capabilities.