GCHQ Set Up School Girl Cyber Security Challenge

If you represent IT within a school, your interest in cyber security shouldn’t just be from a risk assessment angle – in fact, GCHQ is keen for you to remember that you’re training the next generation of cyber security experts.

However, as the number of women in many STEM fields, including cyber security services, is far from equal to those of men, GCHQ has launched a new campaign targetted towards 12-13 year old female school pupils. “For every nine men working in cyber-security globally, you will only find one woman,” a spokesperson for the National Cyber Security Centre told The Times. “That suggests cyber-security is missing a huge swathe of possible recruits, and so are missing many talented people.”

The campaign, CyberFirst Girls, has challenged schools to field a team of female pupils for a competition, competing to solve puzzles and problems which have core values aligned with those of protecting cyber security. Along with a teacher mentor, the competition calls for a team of four girls, who will compete in categories such as networking, logic and coding, cyber security and cryptography.

The competition can be tackled from home ground, as the team’s are given a week to work on the questions, which have three difficulty levels, and as they progress, badges will be awarded and more difficult problems will be supplied to keep on challenging the teams.

After the challenges finish, the top 10 teams will be invited to compete face-to-face, with the winners being awarded £1,000 to spend on IT equipment for their school, among other prizes.

The competition starts on the 21st January, and GCHQ hope that 1,600 schools will take part across both private and public sectors, and hopefully encourage more women into the profession in the future.

The CyberFirst initiative was outlined by the government at the end of last year, as part of a push to ensure that the UK had an effective skilled workforce for cyber security in the future. The idea of this initiative is to ensure attractiveness and viability of cyber security profession for a wider demographic of people than the government believes currently exists.

Finding cyber security talent is high on the agenda for GCHQ, after last October they revealed that their public facing arm, the National Cyber Security Centre, had dealt with 1,167 serious cyber security incidents since its inception just two years before.

The centre’s head Ciaran Martin said that he was sure that the centre would be tested ‘in full’ in years to come, with something they’d refer to as a Category 1 attack – something that is defined as disrupting essential services or affecting national security, leading to severe economic or social consequences, or even loss of life.

The NSCS also launched the Active Cyber Defence initiative, which protects everyday users from high volume attacks – the likes of phishing scams in particular. Since it was set up, the UK share of global phishing attacks has fallen from 5.3 per cent to 2.4 per cent, according to The Independent.

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