Girls impress judges in national final of cyber security contest

Created:  28 Mar 2017
Updated:  28 Mar 2017
TEENAGE cyber sleuths who travelled to London from all over the country have been praised for their security skills after impressing judges with their code-cracking abilities at a UK final.

CyberFirst girls competition

37 girls representing 10 teams came to the historic Lancaster House in the heart of Westminster to pit their technological wits against girls from other schools from across the country at the national final on Monday 27 March.

The CyberFirst Girls competition was organised by the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, and saw more than 8,000 young women aged 13-15 from across the UK enter online heats in teams of three or four. The contest was created to raise more awareness of careers in cyber security amongst girls, because only 10% of the global workforce is female.

The finalists came from;

•    Cheshire
The Queen’s School - Imogen, Ellen, Katelyn and Polyanna

•    Hampstead, Greater London
Henrietta Barnett School - Jess, Beth, Maddie, Miranda

•    Lancashire
Lancaster Girls Grammar School - Emily, Evie and Lauren

•    Edinburgh
George Heriot’s School - Grace, Heather, Kate and Ciara

•    Kingston, Surrey
Tiffin Girls School - Bronte, Katie and Cordelia

•    Oxfordshire
Oxford High School - Becky, Alice and Elizaveta

•    Somerset
Kings of Wessex School - Sarah, Amelia, Jennifer and Tilly

•    Wiltshire
South Wilts Grammar School - Amy, Holly, Megan and Sophia

•    Worcestershire
Pershore High School - Lucy, Milly, Ella and Alice

•    Worcestershire
Hanley Castle High School - Emily, Alex, Libby and Hannah

The final transformed the historic Lancaster House, just yards from Buckingham Palace, into a live-action cyber centre to test the girls’ security skills through a series of challenging scenarios.

By reaching the final, the schools finished in the top 0.5% of entrants, and took part in a full-day of digital investigation to unravel a fictional mystery that had seen the fictional Paddock Hill School website hacked.

As they worked their way through the challenges to find clues to unravel the hack, they were supported by female tech industry champions Miriam González (Inspiring Girls International’s founder), Dido Harding (TalkTalk’s chief executive), Sian John (Symantec’s chief strategist), Dr Nicola Hodson (Microsoft's general manager of marketing and operations) and Jacqueline de Rojas (TechUK’s president).

They then presented their findings to a panel of Industry Champions, featuring Dido Harding, Miriam González and NCSC directors Alison Whitney and Chris Ensor, where the Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School were the eventual winners, after finding a total of 28 cyber clues about the hackers’ identity.

Emily from Lancaster Girls Grammar School, said:

“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the ability to see our progress.
“There was nothing that could be improved about the contest, and the aesthetic on the website was fantastic.
“We were also quite pleased to find out the final was being held in somewhere called Lancaster House!”

Alison Whitney, the deputy director for digital services at the NCSC, said:

“All of the girls were very worthy finalists – the standard of work was incredibly high and we were very impressed with their work.
“Having worked in cyber security for over a decade I would recommend working in cyber security to any young woman hoping to make a positive impact on the world.
“Cyber security is increasingly important to help people live and work online, and we hope CyberFirst Girls will help young women develop skills that could lead to a dynamic and rewarding career.”

The winning team took home individual prizes and their school will receive IT equipment to the value of £1,000 which were presented with the prizes by Miriam González, founder of Inspiring Girls International and a partner in the law firm Dechert.

Before the winner was announced, Miriam González said:

“We have so few women in STEM sector, and seeing what I have this afternoon that is impossible to understand. Everybody here is good enough to work in the sector.
“Please stick to it – whether it’s in cyber security or something similar. Stick to it. You couldn’t have been any more impressive, it was incredibly professional. 
“I was truly impressed by the talent of the girls who have taken part of the competition and I do hope that many of them pursue a career in the technology field.” 

The government is fully committed to defending against cyber threats and address the cyber skills gap to develop and grow talent. A five year National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS) was announced in November 2016, supported by £1.9billion of transformational investment.

The NCSC was opened by the Queen in February 2017 and provides a single, central body for cyber security at a national level. It manages national cyber security incidents, carries out real-time threat analysis and provides tailored sectoral advice.  

School quotes

Emily from Lancaster Girls Grammar School, Lancaster (Circular Logic), who won the competition with schoolmates Evie and Lauren, said:
“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the ability to see our progress.
“There was nothing that could be improved about the contest, and the aesthetic on the website was fantastic.
“We were also quite pleased to find out the final was being held in somewhere called Lancaster House!”

Imogen, from the Queen’s School in Cheshire (QBit), who entered with schoolmates Ellen, Katelyn and Polyanna, said:
“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the sense of achievement after completing a challenge task.
“We enjoyed working as a girls’ team because we know each other well and there was less ‘gender competition’.
“We really enjoyed the whole experience, including the online challenges and coming down to London – we couldn’t wait for the final.”

Grace, from George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh (Added Value Unit), who entered with schoolmates Heather, Kate and Ciara, said:
“The challenges were really interesting and there was a really wide variety of challenges to do.
“We enjoyed working as a girls’ team and we all got to work together and consult with each other.
“The use of twitter was really interesting – anybody could find it. They made it real.”

Becky from Oxford High School (Cyber Kittens), who entered with schoolmates Alice and Elizaveta, said:
“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the variety of challenges and the satisfaction of completing them.”
“It would be great to see more competitions like this in the future – we would definitely take part!”

Jess, from Henrietta Barnett School in London (HexBytes), who entered with schoolmates Beth, Maddie and Miranda, said:
“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the fun and diverse range of problems.
 “We really enjoyed it – it was more fun than hard work. None of us had any knowledge of cyber security before but we really enjoyed it.”

Amy, from South Wilts Grammar School, Wiltshire (Coding Club), who entered with schoolmates Holly, Megan and Sophia, said:
 “The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the social element and the challenge.
“It was a really exciting experience for us and we really appreciated taking part.”

Lucy, from Pershore High School, Worcestershire (ATeam), who entered with schoolmates Milly, Ella and Alice, said:
“The thing we enjoyed most about the competition was the introduction to a new world and knowledge level, especially how much we all learnt.
“We really enjoyed working as a girls team. The teamwork and friendship level really helped us with the competition as a whole.
“The competition has really opened our eyes to a whole new career choice. We went into this competition not knowing hardly anything and from the challenges we have come away knowing so much more than we did before.” 

Sarah, from the Kings of Wessex Academy, Somerset (Queens of Wessex), who entered with schoolmates Amelia, Jennifer and Tilly, said:
“The competition was such a good idea. It’s great to learn computer science in an innovative way and to encourage girls to get into it.
“We enjoyed working as a team because we all have our own strengths so we could help each other.”

Bronte, from The Tiffin Girls School, Kingston (TFS3 School), who entered with schoolmates Katie and Cordelia, said:
“We are all taking the IT GCSE and were introduced to cyber security through that, and thought the competition would be a good way to get more experience.
“We didn’t know what to expect but the building was really impressive. It was quite daunting at first but I think once we got started we got on a roll.”
“It was challenging, so the thing we liked most was the satisfaction of solving the problems.”

Emily, from Hanley Castle High School, Worcestershire (Hanley One), who entered with schoolmates Alex, Libby and Hannah, said: 
“This has been an amazing and enjoyable experience. We first found out about it from our teacher Mrs Hawkins and thought it sounded fun.
“There was a really nice atmosphere in the final – it didn’t feel like an exam, which was good.
“The variety of difficulties gave us smaller goals to aim for, which motivated us even when it was difficult. We would definitely all do it again.” 


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