National Cyber Security Centre
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Girls just wanna have fun-damental cyber security knowledge

Moving CyberFirst courses from the classroom to online proves hugely successful.

A young girl working from home on her laptop at a table

  • 60% rise in girls applying to National Cyber Security Centre’s CyberFirst summer courses
  • Courses designed to encourage interest and improve diversity in the cyber security sector
  • Decision to move courses from the classroom to online proves hugely successful with more than 1,700 learning about cyber security challenges

The number of girls looking to learn new cyber security skills has surged this summer after courses went online for the first time, new figures reveal today (Friday).

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a part of GCHQ, confirmed that the number of young people taking part in this year’s CyberFirst summer courses rose to a record-breaking 1,770 after they moved from the classroom to online.

And while the number of applications from boys saw a significant 31% rise, it was the increase in the number of girls applying which really caught the eye – rising by a massive 60% on 2019.

CyberFirst aims to ensure greater diversity in the next generation of cyber security specialists, and the summer courses offer 14 to 17-year-olds the chance to learn about digital forensics, ethical hacking, cryptography and cyber security challenges.

The new figures come one month after the NCSC pledged to take action to improve diversity and inclusion in the cyber security sector, as just 15% of the UK’s cyber security workforce are women and 14% of employees are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, said:

“I’m delighted to see that more young people are exploring the exciting world of cyber security, and it’s especially encouraging to see such a level of interest from girls.

“Our online courses have provided new opportunities for teenagers of all backgrounds and we are committed to making cyber security more accessible for all.

“Ensuring a diverse talent pipeline is vital in keeping the UK the safest place to live and work online, and CyberFirst plays a key role in developing the next generation of cyber experts.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

“It's great to see so many young people taking part in the CyberFirst summer courses. These fantastic experiences give teenagers an insight into the exciting and varied careers on offer in cyber security.

”We want our cyber sector to go from strength to strength, so it is vital we inspire the next generation of diverse talent to protect people and businesses across the country."

Schools Minister Nick Gibb said:

“This country has led the way in introducing computing into the national curriculum and a more rigorous computer science GCSE.

“The world renowned National Cyber Security Centre summer course is inspiring more young people to take up a career in a discipline so important for our country’s safety. I’m delighted too, that we are seeing more applications from girls, ensuring all talent is encouraged to pursue such a vital career.”

Course participant Lydia, from Northern Ireland, said:

“I’ve honestly loved my experience with CyberFirst. I can’t wait to be able to apply my knowledge in the industry.

“Although this year was a little different from the last two courses, I still loved it and I would definitely encourage people to attend these courses.”

This year 670 more places were made available for the CyberFirst summer courses. The number of boys applying rose from 1,824 in 2019 to 2,398 this year, while for girls it went from 930 to 1,492 over the same period.

The annual initiative is offered at three levels: CyberFirst Defenders (for those aged 14–15), CyberFirst Futures (15–16), CyberFirst Advanced (16–17) – all aimed at helping pupils develop digital and problem-solving skills and introduce them to the cyber threat landscape.

This autumn, pupils interested in cyber security and computer science can look forward to a whole raft of opportunities from CyberFirst, as part of its ongoing commitment to inspire the next generation of cyber talent.

Other CyberFirst programmes include:

  • CyberFirst bursaries and apprenticeship schemes, which offer financial help for university-goers and paid summer work placements with over a hundred organisations to kickstart careers in cyber security. Applications are now live.
  • Empower Digital Cyber Week (9th-13th November), where students can watch and join online cyber sessions given by speakers in academia, industry and government.
  • The annual CyberFirst Girls competition, open to teams who want a fun and challenging opportunity to test their cyber skills in a bid to be crowned the UK’s top codebreakers. Registrations for the 2020-21 Girls Competition open on 30th November. More details about this year’s competition can be found on the NCSC’s website.
  • The government's online cyber skills platform Cyber Discovery launched its latest intake in June and has already attracted over 13,500 students, with more than a third of registrations from female students. The programme, for 13-18 year olds, is a free and fun way for teens to develop cyber security skills. Students can register to join here:

Case study 1

For Prisha Sood, 15, taking part in the CyberFirst summer courses provided a “good insight” into cyber security, offering a mix of theory and practical work over the ten days of the course.

Prisha, who attends The Tiffin Girls’ School in London, is considering a career in cyber security and found the summer course both informative and fun.

“We learned about things like threats to networks, there was some computer science-based work, and then we had the virtual labs to test our skills, which was quite fun,” she said.

Prisha is considering taking maths, further maths, computer science and physics at A-level, so taking the summer course was a natural choice for her. “I thought the course was a good insight into cyber security and the way it’s used,” she said.

But she also made the point that lots of prior knowledge of cyber or computer science wasn’t necessary to take part in the course. “I would recommend it to anyone,” she said. “The teachers were very good and answered all our questions, and doing it online wasn’t a problem at all.”

Case study 2

17-year-old pupil Hannah Graham said she found the CyberFirst summer courses “really helpful” as the online course instructors brought to life what she’d been taught at school with practical exercises.

“The best part of the course was the fact that you could try out what [the instructors] were teaching you, because you can’t always do that”, she said, adding: “I got to view the physical aspects rather than just getting taught the content and then having to remember it.”

Hannah, who is studying for A-levels in computer science, English and business at Holy Cross College in Manchester, was already looking at pursuing a career in cyber security when she joined this year’s online Advanced course.

But she said the CyberFirst programme had enriched her understanding of the field, identifying sessions focused on digital forensics and taking part in the virtual lab activities as her personal highlights.

She said overall she “really enjoyed” the experience and would recommend the courses to other students, as it has helped her become better prepared for a future career in cyber security.


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