The XX Factor: GCHQ launches search for young female cyber security stars


Teenage girls from across the UK are being invited to pit their tech skills against one another in a GCHQ competition to find the best and brightest candidates to protect the nation from future cyber attacks.

The CyberFirst Girls Competition, set up by Cheltenham’s GCHQ’s new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has been launched to help knock down barriers preventing women from joining the fight against online crime.

Only 10 per cent of the global cyber workforce are female, meaning millions of British women may be missing out on a career they could excel in.

Girls aged 13-15 can enter the competition in teams of four, plus a teacher who will act as a guardian and mentor.

The pupils will be put through a series of challenges to test their cyber security skills against young women from all over the UK, with the top 10 teams progressing to a national final in London in March.

GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan said: “I work alongside some truly brilliant women who help protect the UK from all manner of online threats. The CyberFirst Girls Competition allows teams of young women a glimpse of this exciting world and provides a great opportunity to use new skills. My advice to all potential applicants would be enjoy the experience and I look forward to meeting some of you.”

The winners will take home individual prizes and their school will receive IT equipment to the value of £1,000.

There will be hints and tips available to help the students through the online phase and a teacher’s guide to help make the most of the competition.

The Government is fully committed to defending against cyber threats and 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 investment.

The new NCSC will provide a single, central body for cyber security at a national level. It will manage national cyber security incidents, carry out real-time threat analysis and provide tailored sectoral advice.

NCSC deputy director Alison said: “Women can, and do, make a huge difference in cyber security – this competition could inspire many more to take their first steps into this dynamic and rewarding career. Having worked in cyber security for over a decade, it is a line of work I would strongly recommend to anybody, and one where lots more women could make a really positive impact on the world.  It’s a fantastic career choice where team work, ingenuity and creative thinking are highly valued attributes and the rewards can be substantial.”

The competition has been praised by the tech industry. Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer at FDM group and Chair of the Institute of Coding’s Industry Advisory Board said:

“This is a very welcome initiative which will give hundreds of women the opportunity to learn more about a career in the cybersecurity industry.

“All too often, women who have taken time out to care for friends or family members have found themselves struggling to get back into work. Likewise, not enough young women are entering the technology industry, missing out on valuable career opportunities and creating an imbalanced workforce.

“These free courses underline GCHQ’s commitment to tackling the gender divide and offering accessible opportunities to people from all backgrounds. Accessibility is key, it’s impossible to build a truly diverse workforce of the future without working hard to bring in people from all walks of life.”

Team Guardians can pre-register their interest from 18 January where downloads to a teacher’s pack, T&Cs and Q&As can be found at

Teams will then be invited to the competition website for full registration from 13 February.