Queens of Wessex Impress Judges in National Final of Cyber Security Contest
31st March, 2017 by Jude Owens
Four Year 9 girls had a special trip to London this week for an extra special mission.
The "Queens of Wessex" Amelia Ford, Jennifer Hughes, Tilly Hallett and Sarah Moreman turned cyber sleuths after they entered the 2017 CyberFirst Girls competition and made the top ten (the top 0.5% of entrants) in the country for their security skills and code-cracking abilities.
Organised by the National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, the competition saw more than 8,000 young women aged 13-15 enter from across the UK in teams of three or four. The competition was created to raise more awareness of careers in cyber security amongst girls, because only 10% of the global workforce in this specialised field is female.
The quartet were invited to attend the national final on Monday 27 March 2017 at the historic Lancaster House yards from Buckingham Palace in the heart of Westminster where they pit their technological wits against girls from nine other schools from across the country. This historic building was transformed into a live-action cyber centre to test the girls' security skills through a series of challenging scenarios; including a digital investigation to unravel a fictional mystery that saw the fictional Paddock Hill School website hacked.
As the teams 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) and Jacqueline de Rojas (TechUK's president). At the end of the day the teams presented their findings to a panel of industry champions, including the above champions and NCSC directors Alison Whitney and Chris Ensor.
On behalf of the Queens of Wessex Sarah 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."
Lancaster Girls' Grammar School were the eventual winners, after finding a total of 28 cyber clues about the hackers' identity. But the Queens of Wessex were not far behind after decoding 25 clues.
Alison Whitney, the Deputy Director for Digital Services at the NCSC, said:
"The girls from Somerset 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."
Miriam González had this advice and encouragement for all the girls:
"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 to 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.