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NCSC CyberFirst Girls 2021 contest kicks off

UK’s national cyber agency says it has already had hundreds of entrants in spite of the challenges presented by the pandemic

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has called on girls aged 12 to 13 from across the UK to sign up for its annual CyberFirst Girls competition, with the deadline for entries fast approaching on Monday 25 January.

This year’s CyberFirst Girls contest has already had hundreds of schools sign up to take part in spite of the challenges presented to the education sector by the pandemic – the contest will, obviously, be going fully virtual in 2021.

The competition forms a key part of the NCSC’s strategy to address the cyber security sector’s lack of diversity and encourage girls and young women to consider careers in security. As always, the competitors will be putting their cyber security skills to the test, taking part in a series of online puzzles covering topics such as logic, networking and cryptography. In 2020, 12,000 girls took part.

“The CyberFirst Girls Competition is a really exciting opportunity for young people to find out more about the world of cyber security and have some fun along the way,” said NCSC deputy director for cyber growth Chris Ensor.

“The countdown is now on to the start of the 2021 contest, and I’m delighted to see so many schools have already signed up, despite the challenges the pandemic has presented them,” he said. “It’s not too late to register and I’d encourage schools to sign up now and give their pupils a chance to be named the UK’s cyber security champions.”

Digital minister Matt Warman added: “The cyber security sector is booming and needs to develop the next generation of talented people, so it is brilliant to see the CyberFirst Girls Competition inspiring pupils to pursue an exciting career in the industry.

“With just one week to go, I urge girls across the country to sign up and discover the fascinating work to be done protecting the nation against online threats.”

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Pupil’s from last year’s winning team, at King Edward’s School Bath, said: “We really enjoyed the online round and found tools like CyberChef really useful. In our spare time we were constantly trying to complete more challenges – if we got stuck, we’d ask the rest of the team and research on the Internet… The CyberFirst Girls Competition is amazing and we definitely recommend it to anyone, whether they’ve done anything on the topics before or not.”

The qualifying rounds will begin at high noon on 25 January and run until midday on 3 February, with the highest scoring teams progressing to regional semi-finals in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and English regions. The winners of these events will progress to the Grand Final in April.

Schoolgirls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland, and Year 9 in Northern Ireland, are eligible to participate in teams of up to four, but must ask a teacher or a school guardian to act as their mentor and register them online.

Places are also still open on some of the NCSC’s other youth outreach programmes, including February’s round of CyberFirst virtual courses.

Boys and girls aged 12-13 can also sign up for CyberFirst Trailblazers, while 13-14 year-olds can take part in CyberFirst Adventurers. Details on how to apply for this scheme can be found here.

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