Four girls from Chester are to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Buckingham Palace after the final of a nationwide codebreaking challenge.
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, Eleanor Railton, Raphaela Tant, Isabel Sykes, Raka Chattopadhyay from The Queen’s School received a surprise invitation from The Duke of York to attend a prize giving at Buckingham Palace.
Each finalist also took home several individual rewards, but a team from The Piggott School in Berkshire were judged the winners and will receive £1,000 towards their school’s IT equipment.
Raphaela Tant, of team Enigmatic, said: “I loved the scenario and problem solving, it was all very memorable. It’s an experience you’ll never get with anything else and it’s really fun to have a competition like this for computing and computer science.”
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.
Head of computer science at The Queen’s School, Joanne Mckeown, said: “The girls have been apprehensive but really happy to be here and have been enjoying the competition so far.
“For us as a school it is really important to give the girls these opportunities to look at the cyber security industry and learn more about it, getting them excited about the prospect of carrying on with computing in the future.”
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.
Deputy Director for Cyber Skills and Growth Chris Ensor 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.
Director for Communications Nicky Hudson 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.