New schools competition launched by Cyber Security Challenge UK

In a connected world, cyber security is essential for both national security and the national economy. As both an economy and a society then, says Stephanie Daman, the CEO of Cyber Security Challenge UK, we require “an increasing flow of new talented young people into cyber security. However, at present, we simply don’t see the numbers coming through that we need.”

The UK’s Cyber Security Challenge began in 2010 as a way, through competition, of publicizing cyber security as a profession, and attracting people to it. Now the Challenge is expanding its reach into schools to foster a new flow of young talent. Supported by Cabinet Office funding and industry sponsorship, the Challenge has announced its first schools program with a £1000 prize.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that school pupils with a talent for cyber security are identified, inspired and enabled”, said Chloe Smith, minister at the Cabinet Office. “The UK already has a world-wide reputation in education and learning and we aim to make this the same for cyber.”

Schools that register for the competition will receive a pack of ciphers, code breaking exercises and learning support material. Apart from learning how to crack ciphers, schools will need to develop and submit their own ciphers that will be judged on ingenuity and difficulty by a panel of industry experts. The submitted ciphers will then be shared among the competing schools in a round-robin virtual tournament later in the year; and the winners of the virtual tournament “will be invited to a face-to-face final battle at the start of next year to find the first ever Cyber Security Challenge Schools Champion.”

The Challenge material will be made available to 2500 schools in the South West through a partnership between the Challenge and South West Grid for Learning Trust. Schools in other parts of the country can take part by registering via the Challenge website (details here). “It will enable us to establish a pipeline of talented people to populate the UK cyber security job pool of the future,” said the minister. “I would encourage as many schools as possible to participate in this exciting challenge.”

As a ‘taster’ for schools to get their pupils engaged, Craig Rice, an information security specialist from Royal Holloway, University of London, has developed a separate online competition available now on the Challenge website. The winning team will be announced at the British Military Tournament in December, and successful entrants will receive free tickets.

“The long term solution must start at the grassroots and that means helping teachers find new fun, exciting and accessible ways for younger audiences to discover why cyber security matters and inspire them to want to defend the UK online,” says Stephanie Daman. “Through this new schools programme we can help teachers take the opportunities and intellectual challenges of this exciting profession into the classroom and ensure more students are interested and ready to embark on a career as a cyber security professional.”

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