Government surveillance agency GCHQ is running a tech skills competition for teenage girls as part of an initiative designed to encourage more women to join the fight to protect the UK from cyberattacks and hackers.
Reflecting a gender balance issue in the technology sector as a whole, women make up just ten percent of the global cybersecurity workforce. GCHQ is looking to change that with the launch of the CyberFirst Girls Competition.
Orchestrated by GCHQ's National Cyber Security Centre, the competition looks to knock down barriers to entry into the profession by inviting girls between the ages of 13 and 15 to enter in teams of four. They will have their cybersecurity skills tested against other schoolgirls from across the UK in a series of online challenges.
The best ten teams will be invited to a national final set to take place in London at the end of March. There they'll compete against each other to investigate what's described as 'suspicious cyber activity' and attempt to solve who is behind a crime.
Prizes include the opportunity to apply for a CyberFirst Student Bursary of £4,000 per year of undergraduate study at university.
"I work alongside some truly brilliant women who help protect the UK from all manner of online threats. The CyberFirst Girls Competition allows teams of young women a glimpse of this exciting world and provides a great opportunity to use new skills," says GCHQ director Robert Hannigan.
It's hoped that the competition will encourage young women towards careers in cybersecurity by highlighting the opportunities within the sector.
"Women can, and do, make a huge difference in cybersecurity. This competition could inspire many more to take their first steps into this dynamic and rewarding career," says Alison Whitney, the deputy director of digital services at the NCSC.
"Having worked in cybersecurity for over a decade, it is a line of work I would strongly recommend to anybody, and one where lots more women could make a really positive impact on the world."
Schools can pre-register interest in taking part on the competition now. Online contests are set to take place between 27th February and the 6th March 2017, with the grand final on 27th March. The initiative is funded by the National Cyber Security Programme in the Cabinet Office and forms part of the National Cyber Security Strategy.
The CyberFirst girls competition is one of a number of schemes by the new National Cyber Security Centre designed to attract cybersecurity professionals to help protect critical national infrastructure from cyberattacks.
The NCSC recently revealed the first UK security startups which will work alongside GHCQ as part of a cyber accelerator scheme designed to help protect the country against hackers.
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