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NCSC makes final call for entries to CyberFirst Girls contest

Entry to the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst Girls 2020 competition is about to close

Entries to the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst Girls 2020 contest are due to close on Tuesday 21 January, with teams of girls aged between 12 and 13 already competing online to put their codebreaking skills to the test.

More than 520 schools from around the UK have already entered this year’s competition, but there is still time to register, and the NCSC is urging teachers to sign up their classes as soon as possible to give participants enough time to complete a series of online puzzles and challenges. These relate to multiple aspects of information security, including logic, cryptography, network security and online safety.

Teams that make it through the online round will qualify for the regional finals, which will be held at several venues including Birmingham and Milton Keynes on 8 February 2020. The winners of these seven events will move forward to the Grand Final in Wales, where they will face the other regional winners to become national champions.

“It’s fantastic to see so many young girls engaging with the cryptic challenges that we’ve set, and I’m encouraged to see the large spread of schools from all corners of the UK taking part,” said Chris Ensor, NCSC deputy director for skills and growth.

“There is still time for schools to get involved, and I strongly urge those who haven’t registered to head to the CyberFirst website and give themselves the chance to be crowned local and even UK champions.”

This will be the fourth time the CyberFirst Girls has been held, after being established as part of a cyber security skills drive within the government’s National Cyber Security Strategy, designed specifically to encourage a new generation of potential cyber security professionals, and to bring more young women into the industry.

The previous winners were Lancaster Girls Grammar School, The Piggott School, Berkshire, and in 2019, the Royal Masonic School for Girls, Hertfordshire. In 2019, 12,000 girls took part, and 98% said they would be keen to learn more about cyber security.

The contest is not to be confused with Cyber Girls First, a programme started by former consultant Pat Ryan five years ago after she attended a computing demonstration for children at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and saw that young girls were being left out of proceedings. Cyber Girls First has also received support from the NCSC and its parent organisation, GCHQ, as well as private sector organisations such as investment bank JP Morgan and legal firm Fieldfisher.

The NCSC runs a number of other educational outreach schemes for teenagers aged between 14 and 17 under the CyberFirst banner, with the aim of demystifying security and encouraging young people into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) careers.

Last year, these courses have were recognised by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), described as “a ringing endorsement for the initiative as meaningful training”.

The SQA’s seal of approval reflects the difficulty of content and time needed to undertake the courses. As an example, the CyberFirst Futures course, which is aimed at 15 to 16 year olds, is recognised for being taught to the same level as a GCSE.

Read more about security skills

  • There has been an active effort by the UK government to tackle the lack of skills in the cyber security space – but is it enough?
  • The British education system cannot move fast enough to address the security skills crisis, and in the absence of government action increased reliance on automation may be the least worst solution.
  • With the increasing need for cyber security professionals, organisations are turning to new ways to address the skills gap facing the security sector.

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