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Schoolgirl security experts prepare to do battle

The finals of the CyberFirst Girls contest will take place on 16 March as the culmination of the NCSC’s annual competition to unearth future security talent

Ten teams of schoolgirls aged 12 to 13 will go head-to-head on Monday 16 March in the grand final of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst Girls competition, to be held in Cardiff.

The girls will take part in a four-hour challenge based on a real-world scenario – protecting a global sporting event from cyber attack – in the culmination of a series of regional contests around the UK that have challenged 12,000 potential future security professionals from more than 750 schools.

“It’s wonderful to see girls from across the UK coming together to put their problem-solving skills and technical expertise to the test,” said Chris Ensor, the NCSC’s deputy director for skills and growth. “I wish all the finalists the best of luck in the grand final.

“No matter who wins this year, the CyberFirst Girls Competition will have hopefully inspired the thousands of girls who took part to pursue their interests in the field of cyber security.”

The finalists hail from Beverley High School in Yorkshire, Greenwood Academy in Ayrshire, Herschel Grammar School in Berkshire, King Edward’s School in Somerset, Loughborough High School in Leicestershire, Strathearn School in Belfast, Stretford Grammar School in Manchester, The Castle School in Somerset, The Cathedral School in Cardiff, and Tiffin Girls’ School in Surrey.

The NCSC launched the CyberFirst Girls competition in 2017, with the aim of boosting interest in cyber security among girls and young women, who are massively under-represented in the field, making up barely 10% of the global security workforce.

It is pitched specifically at girls who are approaching the critical point in their education when they will need to choose specialisms for their GCSE exams and beyond.

Writing on the NCSC website, the team from Herschel Grammar School said that when they first heard of the competition, they had no idea what cyber security was, apart from having something to do with the internet.

“We’re all super excited for the finals, no doubt about it,” they said. “We’ve made calendars and we’ve even made lists of questions that we pestered our team guardian with. We’re so proud of ourselves and are excited to learn more about cyber security, it’s definitely going to be a memorable experience.

“This experience so far has been amazing, and we learnt so much that we never would know otherwise. It made us realise what careers there are in cyber security and even made us consider it and try things, and maybe one day we could pursue a career in this industry.”

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Reflecting on their progress to the finals, pupils from Greenwood Academy said: “The initial rounds were difficult but we enjoyed working together to complete the online challenges. We were delighted when Miss Allan told us we had qualified for the semi-final. This was held in Morgan Stanley in Glasgow, where we had to compete against eight other schools.

“We were really nervous, but everyone encouraged us to try our best. The scoreboards displayed the live scores, allowing us to see our overall position. We were sitting in first place before lunchtime. We had to stay calm and work under pressure for the rest of the afternoon. It was terrifying looking at the scoreboards as they frequently updated to reflect the new scores.

“We were delighted to have stayed in first position and secured our place in the final. We are the [only] Scottish school to qualify and are very proud of our achievements.”

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