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UK's most cyber-savvy girls crowned after codebreaking competition finale

Created:  20 Mar 2018
Updated:  20 Mar 2018
The 2018 CyberFirst Girls Competition reaches its conclusion at the grand final in Manchester
  • The NCSC’s 2018 CyberFirst Girls Competition reaches dramatic conclusion in Manchester
  • The Computifuls from The Piggott School emerge as victors after day of codebreaking challenges
  • 4,500 girls from around the UK entered this year’s competition
  • The Duke of York will host a Prize Giving for the finalists at Buckingham Palace

CF Final 18
The Piggot School in action

A team from Berkshire have been named the UK’s most cyber-savvy girls at the final of a nationwide codebreaking challenge yesterday [Monday, 19 March].

The final of the 2018 CyberFirst Girls Competition saw ten teams of girls aged 12-13 test their sleuthing skills and technological mettle against a series of head-scratching challenges set by masterminds from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ.

In recognition of their incredible efforts, each finalist also received a surprise invitation from The Duke of York to attend a Prize Giving at Buckingham Palace.

Megan Pickup, Jess Peck, Zara Pristov-King and Callena Wylie, from The Piggott School, were judged the winners and will receive £1,000 towards their school’s IT equipment. Each finalist took home several individual prizes.

Jess Peck, of winning team The Computifuls, said:

“The competition was challenging, but we worked so hard as a team and it was fun. We did have moments when we went down in the leaderboard, but we regrouped, kept thinking and came back up.  

“All the teams did amazingly, and it was scary when they were announcing the results and calling out the names - we were actually really shocked that we won.

“After today we feel like we know much more about computers and technology – now we feel like more of a helper rather than someone who needs helping. If I were to have a career in computer science I think I’d have a career in cyber security.”

The final, held at the Emirates Old Trafford Cricket Stadium in Manchester, saw the talented teams tackle a series of cryptic puzzles. The girls had previously seen off over 1,200 other teams to reach the final after finishing in the top 1% of entrants.

Pat Bhattacharya, Head of Computer Science at The Piggott School, said

“This has been a fantastic experience for the girls, especially because we at Piggott want to promote girls in computer science.

"Getting girls into technology has been one of our overarching objectives at the school and this has been a fantastic platform for that.”

The challenges tested the girls’ problem-solving and technological skills as they tracked down a cyber criminal to help decrypt the files of a vlogging ransomware victim, and find hidden clues in the room for points.

Later, the teams pitched their findings to a panel featuring BBC broadcast journalist Steph McGovern, Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Skills and Growth, and Nicky Hudson, NCSC Director for Communications.

Chris Ensor, Deputy Director for Cyber Skills and Growth, said

“I’d like to congratulate each and every one of the teams who have made it through to the final: as 40 out of 4,500 girls, they are all winners in my book.

“I hope to see all of them of them on our CyberFirst courses in the summer, and to see them take up a bursary in the future: this is our future talent and we want to identify it, nurture it and help it to start a career protecting the UK.”

Now in its second year, 4,500 girls entered this year’s CyberFirst Girls competition, which aims to knock down some of the barriers that have resulted in women being so worryingly under-represented in cyber security, where only one in ten of the workforce is female.

Nicky Hudson, Director for Communications, said:

“Only 10% of the cyber workforce are women, and there is a desperate need to have diverse groups working on the most intractable technological problems.

“This competition from the National Cyber Security Centre is a way to pique girls’ interest at a young age and make them enthused about having careers in an ever-expanding sector.

“Studies have shown that workforces perform better when they are truly diverse, and cyber security is no different – in fact it is essential that we are representative of the country that we are defending.”

It is hoped that the next generation of tech-savvy girls will be inspired by their experience to take up computer science at GCSE and consider a career in the industry.

The competition has seen a highly positive take up on its return, with a 52% rise in the number of schools who registered teams to compete this year.

You can see a gallery from the CyberFirst Girls Competition final here.

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