CYBER savvy girls from Strathearn School in Belfast are preparing to take on the best teams from the rest of the UK in an attempt to be crowned the nation’s codebreaking champions.

The pupils, aged 12 and 13, saw off challengers from the rest of Northern Ireland last month to reach the CyberFirst Girls Competition final, where they will take on the nine best teams from the rest of the UK.   

The final, to be held on March 16, will see them tackle a real-world scenario of protecting a global sporting event from cyber attacks.

This is the fourth year the National Cyber Security Centre  – a part of GCHQ – has run the CyberFirst Girls Competition and this year’s Grand Final will be hosted for the first time in Cardiff, Wales, ahead of the CYBERUK conference in Newport on May 19 & 20.

This year’s newly expanded competition saw a series of semi-finals run simultaneously at venues across the UK, with 10 winners going through to Monday’s final. This ensures that all parts of the country will be represented.

In the final, the teams of up to four girls will take part in more than four hours of gameplay where, faced with a number of challenges, they will attempt to ensure the cyber security of a major sporting event.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Skills and Growth, said:

“It’s wonderful to see girls from across the UK coming together to put their problem-solving skills and technical expertise to the test. 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.”

Strathearn School, one of the schools to reach this year’s final, said:

“We are extremely proud of all our girls for their tremendous achievement in making it through to the final of the competition, highlighting the many exciting opportunities that come with embracing a modern, emerging and innovative curriculum.”

Nearly 12,000 girls from 754 schools have taken part in the competition this year, allowing for even more cyber talent in the UK to be discovered.

The CyberFirst Girls Competition was launched with the aim of boosting interest in cyber security among females, who are currently under-represented in the industry. Women make up only 11% of the global workforce in the field and this scheme is pitched at pupils starting to think about what subject choices to make for their GCSE exams and beyond.

One of this year’s finalists, the team from the Tiffin Girls’ School in Surrey, was last month featured on BBC1’s The One Show, alongside David Schwimmer and Nick Mohammed who were promoting ‘Intelligence’ their new comedy about GCHQ.

Since 2017, 37,000 girls have taken part in the scheme, and of last year’s entrants 98 per cent said they would like to learn more about cyber security. The competition is open to girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland and Year 9 in Northern Ireland.

More details about the competition and a list of the finalists can be found on the NCSC’s website.

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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