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Codebreaking Girls in Powys in Chance to Win UK Cyber Contest

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A team of girls in Powys have triumphed over codebreaking rivals across Wales to reach the final of the UK’s flagship cyber security contest for schools.

Pupils from Gwernyfed High School in Brecon have successfully gained a place in the final of the CyberFirst Girls Competition, run by GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), after seeing off tough competition from rival schools at the Welsh semi-final heat.

Girls aged 12 and 13 pitted their digital skills against one another in teams of four, tackling cyber security puzzles covering cryptography, logic and networking for a chance to be named Welsh champions and then vie for the UK CyberFirst crown.

More than 120 teams from all corners of the UK took part in semi-final heats held virtually for pupils in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and five English regions. Today, the NCSC has announced ten teams will progress to the Grand Final in April.

Now in its fifth year, the CyberFirst Girls Competition aims to inspire girls to pursue their interests in technology and consider a career in cyber security – a field where women are still under-represented in the UK, making up an estimated 15% of the sector workforce.

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

“Congratulations to all those who reached the Welsh CyberFirst Girls semi-final, and a special well done to Gwernyfed High School for reaching the Grand Final.

“It’s inspiring to see girls up and down the country engaging in the competition with such enthusiasm and skill, and we hope many will consider taking their interest in cyber security further.

“By offering girls the opportunity to develop new skills, the CyberFirst Girls Competition plays an important role in improving gender diversity in cyber security, and thanks to support from teachers and industry partners, it continues to be a great success.”

Minister for Education Kirsty Williams said:

“Congratulations to all the girls who have reached the semi-final – this is a massive achievement and you should be so very proud.

“The importance of being cyber aware and staying safe online has been heightened this year with so many of us being at home and spending more time on electronic devices.

“I hope this continues to inspire more young women to think about becoming cyber experts!”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman MP said:

“Well done to everyone who made it to this far in the competition – it is great to see girls across the country taking part and putting their cyber skills to the test.

“It is important we inspire the next generation of cyber defenders to consider a career in cyber security and continue building a strong pipeline of diverse talent to protect people and businesses for years to come.”

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Wales, David TC Davies MP, said:

“I’d like to congratulate the students from Gwernyfed High School who have successfully made it through to the Grand Final of the CyberFirst Girls Competition, and to all of the teams in Wales who took part in the latest stage of the competition.

“Events like this help to support and inspire girls to pursue an interest in careers like cyber security, which is an industry which continues to grow in Wales.”

More than 6,500 girls from more than 600 UK schools entered the online qualifying round for this year’s CyberFirst Girls Competition when it opened in January.

This year’s semi-final rounds took place simultaneously on Friday 19 March for teams in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and English regions: the North of England, Central England, the South West, the South East and London.

The highest scoring team from each event, along with two high-scoring wildcard teams, will now progress to the Grand Final taking place on Monday 26 April virtually.

The 40 finalists will face new tasks testing their understanding of cyber security and putting the skills they have developed during the competition into practice. Each team will also receive a drop crate, containing tech equipment and physical challenges, to help them complete the puzzles.

The 2021 Grand Finalists are:

  • Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College (South West – wildcard)
  • Bradford Grammar School (North of England)
  • Bristol Grammar School (South West)
  • Broughton Hall High School (North of England – wildcard)
  • Chelmsford County High School for Girls (South East)
  • Gwernyfed High School (Wales)
  • Highgate School (London)
  • Our Lady and St Patrick’s College (Northern Ireland)
  • St Margaret’s School for Girls (Scotland)
  • The Perse School (Central England)