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Popstars, pasta and pythons: Pupils learn there's more to cyber than meets the eye

Posted 15 December 2020 · Add Comment

Cyber savvy pupils in the UK have enjoyed unprecedented support from world-leading experts showing them how learning about ‘popstars, pasta and pythons’ can help protect the country from online attacks.

Image courtesy NCSC

Organised by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – a part of GCHQ – the CyberFirst EmPower Cyber Week saw scores of schools take part in virtual presentations designed to show pupils aged 12 and 13 what careers in cyber security look like.

Among the courses taken up were: ‘Popstars and Passwords’ (creating strong passwords using three random words and your favourite popstars); ‘The Marshmallow Challenge’ (a physical task using spaghetti pasta noodles to show how networks operate) and ‘Python Mind Reader’ (using programming language Python to create a game).

EmPower Cyber Week, which began on 30th November, covered topics including coding, cryptography and logic, and was delivered by a range of experts working in cyber security across academia, industry and government. Many sessions are still available to view on the NCSC website.

The NCSC is also now taking registrations for this year’s CyberFirst Girls Competition, which sees girls aged 12 to 13 pit their wits against one another in a contest that last year received 12,000 entrants.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, said: “The NCSC is committed to creating an environment where cyber security can thrive, and we’re pleased that our drives to reach school-aged children are inspiring the next generation of cyber experts.

“The EmPower Cyber Week was a great success in collaboration with industry and government partners and I’m delighted that pupils from around the country took up the opportunity to find out about what cyber security careers have to offer.

“The CyberFirst programme looks to offer pupils and students as many chances as possible to develop valuable cyber skills – and we would strongly encourage girls to register for next year’s CyberFirst Girls competition.”

The CyberFirst Girls Competition has become a popular annual event for schools with more than 37,000 girls having taken part in the series of interactive cyber security challenges since it was launched in 2017.

The competition is the NCSC’s flagship cyber security event for schools, setting a series of codebreaking challenges for girls in Year 8, S2 and Year 9 in Northern Ireland and giving them the opportunity to be crowned both local and UK champions. The contest aims to inspire girls to consider a career in an industry where women are under-represented.

Hundreds of schools are already registering teams for this year’s contest before the online qualifying round begins on 25th January 2021.This first round of the competition will see teams participate in online challenges to rack up points.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: "I'm thrilled to see girls from across the UK applying for NCSC's CyberFirst Girls codebreaking competition. It's a great opportunity for young people to experience the work that goes into protecting people and businesses against online threats.

“I hope this initiative inspires more girls to consider a career in the cyber security sector."

The highest scoring teams will progress to semi-finals in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and across England. The winners of these events will earn a place at the Grand Final on 26th April.

Last year, after the team from King Edward’s School in Bath found out they had won the South West England semi-final last year, the successful pupils said in a blog:

“The CyberFirst Girls Competition has been really awesome! We’ve enjoyed solving the challenges and working together as a team…

“We definitely recommend it to anyone, whether they’ve done anything on the topics before or not.”

The team later went on to win the CyberFirst Girls Competition 2020 at the Grand Final in Cardiff.

For pupils who may have missed the EmPower Cyber Week material last week, a number of the pre-recorded presentations – by organisations such as BT, the Home Office and Tesco – can still be watched by visiting the NCSC’s website .



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