GCHQ to make spies of tech-savvy teenage girls

An aerial shot of the GCHQ building
(Image credit: Ministry of Defence)

Teenage girls across the UK are being invited to test their hacking skills in a cybersecurity competition, in a bid to raise interest and increase the number of women joining security agencies.

The CyberFirst Girls competition, hosted by GCHQ's newly formed National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), will pit young security enthusiasts against each other in a series of challenges designed to test cyber skills that are sorely needed across all industries.

Girls aged 13-15 will be able to enter the competition in teams of four to engage in preliminary online challenges, with the possibility of advancing to the national final held in London in March. This initial stage will last one-week, between 27 February and 6 March, and consist of puzzles in four categories: Logic and coding, networking, cyber security and cryptography.

The top ten teams will then compete against each other in a series of tasks that challenge participants to investigate suspicious cyber activity and identify the source of the threats.

"I work alongside some truly brilliant women who help protect the UK from all manner of online threats," said GCHQ director Robert Hannigan. "The CyberFirst Girls competition allows teams of young women a glimpse of this exciting world and provides a great opportunity to use new skills."

The pupils from the winning team will each take home individual prizes, and their school's IT department will receive 1,000 worth of new equipment.

Teachers from all subjects are encouraged to enter, as there are no knowledge or computer skill requirements for pupils, and a single school may enter multiple teams.

The competition forms part of the new National Cyber Security Strategy unveiled in November 2016, which aims to address the cyber skills gap - a problem that has seen women massively underrepresented in the industry. Globally women make up only 10% of the entire cyber workforce, and in the UK the number of women employed in computer services accounts for just 16%.

CyberFirst will also be launching a series of free activity days and courses in February 2017, for pupils in Year 8 through Year 13, which will give students the possibility of applying for a CyberFirst Student Bursary of 4,000 per year for undergraduate study.

Teachers can now pre-register their interest at the NCSC website, where they will receive an information and Q&A pack. Once registered, teams will then be invited to register fully for the competition from 13 February.

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.