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Future security stars shine in first round of CyberFirst Girls contest

There were more than 6,500 participants in the opening heats of the National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst Girls competition this year

More than 6,500 schoolgirls aged 12 to 13 from across the UK took part in the first round of the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst Girls competition, and the top-scoring school teams now move forward to face their regional rivals in the semi-finals.

As the industry marks the International Day of Woman and Girls in Science, the NCSC said it was seeing a huge appetite from girls to learn more about cyber security. More than 600 teams signed up for this year’s virtual edition of the contest.

The competition features a series of puzzles covering cryptography, logic and networking, set by the NCSC alongside its industry partners – you can try your hand at some of the tasks here.

The competition is aimed at girls on the verge of making their subject choices for GCSE, and is designed to inspire them to consider careers in cyber security, an area where – alongside much of the rest of the tech industry – women are still under-represented.

“On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are pleased to say that thousands of girls came forward to compete in this year’s competition, and we congratulate the top teams, which now go forward into the semi-finals,” said Chris Ensor, NCSC deputy director for cyber growth, who oversees the agency’s activities around careers and skills development.

“These girls have opened the door to what could one day be an exciting and rewarding career, where more female representation is undoubtedly needed. We owe a special thanks to teachers who encouraged pupils to take up this fun opportunity to engage with – and hopefully be inspired by – cyber security.”

Digital minister Matt Warman added: “The cyber security industry needs talented people and I hope everyone who took part had fun and felt inspired to consider an exciting career cracking codes, disrupting cyber attacks and protecting our online spaces.”

Pupils 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.”

Since it was launched in 2017, more than 37,000 girls have now taken part in the competition, which continues on Thursday 19 March with regional semi-finals, to be followed in April by a virtual grand final event, at which the national champions will be crowned.

Places are also still open on some of the NCSC’s other youth outreach programmes: 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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