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Sunday, January 29, 2023

UK Program for Cyber Stars of Tomorrow Triples Intake, Addresses Gender Imbalance

The British government intelligence and security organization, GCHQ, has trebled its intake of young people learning cybersecurity skills since the program launched in 2016.

The CyberFirst program is run by the National Cyber Security Centre, part of GCHQ, and offers a range of courses, competitions and student bursaries for 11-to-17-year-olds.

The scheme aims to train the next generation of cyber-security workers as well as reduce the gender imbalance that currently exists in the industry.

GCHQ is currently preparing for its third CyberFirst Girls competition, which is aimed at girls aged 12 and 13 and sees them take part in a series of online challenges.

The aim of the competition is to encourage more young women to consider cyber security as a career. Currently, only 11 per cent of the global cyber workforce is female, the organization said.

Chris Ensor, the National Cyber Security Centre’s deputy director for skills and growth said: “Trebling the number of young people taking part on CyberFirst courses is an encouraging start. However, women only make a small proportion of the global cyber workforce and throughout GCHQ and the NCSC we are looking to address the imbalance.

“Ensuring the inquisitive instincts of young people to find out how things work are maintained is hugely important.

“In the first two editions of the CyberFirst Girls competition we have seen how much entrants engage with the challenges we set and this year’s competition is due to be bigger and just as cryptic.”

The competition is accepting entries for teams until 21 January.

Over the past two years 12,500 female pupils in schools across the UK have participated in the annual CyberFirst Girls competition to crown the UK’s most cyber-capable young women.

Open to girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland and Year 9 in Northern Ireland (12-13yrs of age) participants can enter in teams of up to four, along with a teacher/school mentor who will act as a guardian.

Digital Minister Margot James said: “We want to show girls across the country that cyber security is exciting, rewarding and challenging. The CyberFirst Girls competition will help inspire the workforce of the future and also show girls that whatever their background or interest, a career in cyber security is fulfilling.

“It’s been a fantastic success so far and I hope thousands more will take part this year.”

The first online phase of this year’s competition, sees each team attempt to complete a series of challenges split into four categories: cryptography, cyber security, logic and coding and networking. The top 10 teams will compete in a face-to-face Grand Final in Edinburgh in March 2019.

Former participant, Odette, a pupil from Gloucestershire said she enjoyed how the competition story fitted together and was set out like a realistic cyber attack. “The challenges covered skills in computing you wouldn’t ordinarily come across at school.”

Around 600 places on specially commissioned four-day CyberFirst Defenders courses in April and May are to be offered to entrants as an added incentive, organizers said.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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