NCSC’s CyberFirst Girls Competition to help women choose cyber security careers

To encourage more and more young women to join the cyber security industry in the coming years, the National Cyber Security Centre has launched an ambitious CyberFirst Girls Competition for schoolgirls aged 12 to 13 years.

The CyberFirst Girls Competition will help schoolgirls practice their skills in a simulated real-world environment, earn badges along the way and enable themselves to apply for cyber security jobs when they come of age.

In its website, the National Cyber Security Centre said that the CyberFirst Girls Competition will provide 'a fun but challenging environment to encourage and inspire the next generation of young women to consider computer science as an option with a view to a future career in cyber security'.

With women making up only 11% of the cyber security workforce, a competition like the one launched by the NCSC could provide a much-required platform for young girls to opt for computer science and cyber security as career prospects.

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In November, a survey of over 2,000 young men and 2,000 young women from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Israel and the Netherlands by Kaspersky Lab revealed that only 36% and 7% of women were inclined to choose mathematics and IT respectively as their preferred subjects at school, and that only 16% of women had a clear idea of what cyber security experts did.

With the average age at which women decided on their future career being just 15 years and 10 months, the lack of understanding about cyber security and the lack of coding experience played a part in them not choosing cyber security as their future career options.

'This suggests a need for young girls to have access to advice and information about the industry at a younger age, so that they don’t rule it out in favour of more traditional professions such as lawyers, medics or teachers that have long-established career paths,' the security software firm said.

The NCSC's CyberFirst Girls Competition will only accept participants who are in year 8 in England, S2 in Scotland and year 9 in Northern Ireland. Once they register, the participants will be asked to solve challenges based on three difficulty levels: beginner, intermediate and expert. Participants will also be merged into groups to solve new challenges and will also be offered hints if they're stuck somewhere.

A similar competition held by the NCSC last year attracted over 8,000 schoolgirls from hundreds of schools across the UK. Students from The Queens School, Chester, stood first in the competition followed by students from Lancaster Girls Grammar School, George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, Oxford High School in Oxford and The Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston upon Thames.

'We need the best and brightest people – girls and boys – with a passion for technology, who can deliver the nation’s cyber security. Too often, society limits girls in what they aspire to achieve.

'Our CyberFirst Girls Competition will give teams the opportunity to develop new skills, meet new people and gain an exciting insight into the world of national security,' said Jeremy Fleming, director of Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).