18 January, 2018

A drive to encourage girls to explore and choose a career in cyber security is being encouraged and supported by NI’s largest indigenous cyber security firm, Cyphra.

Year 9 pupils from across Northern Ireland are being called to participate in a UK wide CyberFirst Girls Competition organised by the NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) and supported by regional key partners. Open to girls and schools across NI, England, Scotland and Wales, online registration is now open and allows teams of school girls to compete in fun online cyber security challenges in a bid to reach the finals taking place in Manchester in March.

Launched for the first time last year, Cyphra’s Director, Conrad Simpson is encouraging registration and more participation from NI schools and is keen that pupils here don’t get left behind or miss out on opportunities when it comes to subject choices or a career in cyber security.

“This competition is a great opportunity for schools and girls to get involved in and to compete with school children their own age. This competition is important as we need more women in cyber security. Currently women represent only 11 per cent of the cyber security workforce worldwide. Without women pursuing careers in cyber security, the industry is missing out on almost half the population’s talent pool during a period when cyber crime is a real and growing threat.

“CyberFirst offers girls in Year 9 the chance to explore something new and to open their minds to future subject and career choices. We want as many schools and girls teams to sign up, get involved and to be in with a chance of winning this national CyberFirst Girls Competition.”

The competition is a team event with each made up from four female students. It is only open to girls in year 9 in Northern Ireland (8 in England and Wales and S2 in Scotland). This year group are the focus as its hoped that participants who enjoy the competition are encouraged to pursue the STEM based subjects as options for GCSE, A’Levels or equivalent exams.

Consisting of two distinct phases the competition has an online ‘qualifying round’ to identify the top ten teams and the ‘Grand Final’, where the top ten teams will tackle a real-world scenario at a location in Manchester (18-19 March). Whatever the girls’ ability – from beginner to expert – ‘they’ll definitely learn something new about cyber security’ explains Conrad Simpson.

The 2017 competition attracted 2,171 teams of girls aged between 13 and 15. These 8,000 participants, from schools all across the UK, were whittled down to just 10 elite teams, through a series of online challenges and puzzles. In 2017, Lancaster Girls Grammar won but in 2018, it could be your school.

Registration is now open and schools can register and enter teams at the official CyberFirst Girls Competition website. The competition runs online from the 29th January to the 5th February. The Grand Final takes place on 18-19 March in Manchester.

Team guardians do not need to have any cyber knowledge or be an IT or computer science teacher. Each school can enter as many teams as they wish.

During the online round the girls can answer the challenges at school, during lunch, in lessons or in the evenings either with the team or individually as part of the team. The competition has been made flexible to enable teams to dip in and out.