GCHQ Launches Recruitment Drive to Get Girls into Cybersecurity

Scottish Government Ferris Slater

UK spy chiefs aim to inspire the next generation of schoolgirls to become online security experts with CyberFirst Girls competition. 

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s intelligence and security organisation, wants to encourage more women to join the cyber workforce in a bid to bolster the UK’s cyber defences.

With the threat of state-backed cyber attacks ever present the government has realised that it must do more to get women into the cyber workforce. At present, women account for only 11% of the global cyber workforce.

Hoping to spark an interest in the next generation, GCHQ has organised a code-cracking girls-only contest, the CyberFirst Girls competition. According to the GCHQ website: “Each activity is designed to give talented young people the support, skills, experience and exposure they need to become cyberists of the future.”

The first, online phase of the competition is now open and will see each team attempt to complete a series of challenges split into four categories: cryptography, cybersecurity, logic and coding, and networking. The top ten teams will go onto compete in a face-to-face Grand Final in Edinburgh in March 2019.

Open to girls in their early teens in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, participants can enter in teams of up to four, along with a teacher/school mentor who will act as a guardian.

Addressing the Cyber Skills Gap

Chris Ensor, of the National Cyber Security Centre, said: “Over the last two years an amazing 12,500 young girls have tackled our CyberFirst Girls competition. The third edition will be bigger and better than ever, and we hope a new set of entrants are queuing up to take the challenge.

“Women are still only a small proportion of the global cyber work-force and engaging with and inspiring the next generation is key to addressing the current cyber skills gap.”

Digital Minister Margot James said: “We want to show girls across the country that cybersecurity 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 cybersecurity is fulfilling. It’s been a fantastic success so far and I hope thousands more will take part this year.”

Social engineering, cyber and intelligence expert, and partner at Red Goat Cyber Security LLP, Lisa Forte, told DIGIT: “The CyberFirst Girls competition is a great initiative aimed at attracting girls into cyber security. I don’t believe it goes far enough, though.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in countries like Japan over the years, who have now named cyber security one of the literacies all schools must teach along with maths and science. This is ideally where we need to get to.

“Women and men view risk and vulnerabilities differently. It is, therefore, hugely important to have a diverse security team. Not just men and women but also a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds.

“More needs to be done championing female tech and cyber role models, and Silicon Valley has a huge part to play in driving this agenda forward. I travel around the world a great deal and I have yet to visit a country that isn’t experiencing the same diversity issues. It is a global issue.”

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