CyberFirst Girls' Hacking Competition Showcases Teen Skills

In a positive development for encouraging female participation in cybersecurity, the UK’s CyberFirst Girls’ competition saw 37 young ladies representing 10 teams displaying impressive code-cracking abilities during the national final earlier this week.

The teenage cyber-sleuths travelled to London from all over the country as part of the event organized by the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ. It drew more than 8,000 young women aged 13-15 from across the UK enter online heats in teams of three or four.

The contest was created to raise more awareness of careers in cybersecurity amongst girls, because only 10% of the global workforce is female. It’s part of the UK’s National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS), announced in November 2016, supported by £1.9bn of transformational investment.

The final transformed the historic Lancaster House, just yards from Buckingham Palace, into a live-action cyber-center to test the girls’ security skills through a series of challenging scenarios. In the final, teams took part in a full-day of digital investigation to unravel a fictional mystery that had seen the fictional Paddock Hill School website hacked.

As they worked their way through the challenges to find clues to unravel the hack, they were supported by female tech industry champions Miriam González (Inspiring Girls International’s founder), Dido Harding (TalkTalk’s chief executive), Sian John (Symantec’s chief strategist), Dr Nicola Hodson (Microsoft's general manager of marketing and operations) and Jacqueline de Rojas (TechUK’s president).

They then presented their findings to a panel of Industry Champions, featuring Dido Harding, Miriam González and NCSC directors Alison Whitney and Chris Ensor, where the Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School were the eventual winners, after finding a total of 28 cyber-clues about the hackers’ identity.

“All of the girls were very worthy finalists—the standard of work was incredibly high and we were very impressed with their work,” said Alison Whitney, the deputy director for digital services at the NCSC. “Having worked in cybersecurity for over a decade, I would recommend working in cybersecurity to any young woman hoping to make a positive impact on the world. Cyber security is increasingly important to help people live and work online, and we hope CyberFirst Girls will help young women develop skills that could lead to a dynamic and rewarding career.”

The winning team took home individual prizes, and their school will receive IT equipment to the value of £1,000.

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