Thousands of UK secondary school pupils will compete in a new national code breaking challenge to demonstrate their potential for a career defending the UK from hackers and computer viruses. This follows the announcement of a new Cabinet Office backed cyber security schools programme, delivered by the Cyber Security Challenge UK. The competition will see teams of key stage 4 students breaking coded messages designed by industry experts and developing their own for other schools to crack. It will launch in September and aims to identify and hone the talents of UK students to address a growing skills gap in the UK’s cyber defences.
The Cyber Security Challenge began in 2010 as three virtual competitions feeding into face-to-face grand finals. They were run by a small group of supporters from industry, government and academia to address a skills gap in cyber security and find new talented people to enter the profession. Now in its fourth year and backed by over 50 sponsors, the Challenge has grown its range of competitions to better represent the variety of skills demanded by employers and acts as a source of guidance for those keen to enter the industry.
Its first schools programme will aim to foster the same competitive yet supportive environment that has made the core Challenge competitions such a success, and will also be delivered in association with major employers to ensure it tests practical and usable skills, in demand from industry. The programme is supported by new Cabinet Office funding, and its delivery will be overseen by the appointment of Brian Higgins, formerly of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) and a long term supporter of the Challenge, as its first ever Schools Programme Manager.
To help teachers spark their student’s interest and start to hone their skills, schools who register will receive a pack of ciphers and code breaking exercises. These will be accompanied by learning support materials and lesson plans that not only teach classes how to crack these codes, but also gets them working in teams to develop their own ciphers.
These ‘student ciphers’ will then be submitted to the Challenge and points attributed to each by a panel of industry experts, who will judge them on ingenuity and difficulty. The ciphers will then be shared with other schools for them to crack in order to gain further points as part of a round-robin virtual tournament run over several weeks later this year. At the end of the virtual tournament the top scoring teams will be invited to a face-to-face final battle at the start of next year to find the first ever Cyber Security Challenge Schools Champion. The winning team will earn a £1000 cash prize for their school, a donation from the AFCEA Academic Trust.
The competitions and teacher packs will be made available to over 2500 schools in the south west, through a partnership between the Challenge and South West Grid for Learning Trust who provide schools and other establishments with safe, secure and reliable connectivity and services, learning technologies to improve outcomes, and the toolkit for being safer online. Schools from other regions can also take part by signing up on the Challenge website.
To mark the announcement a brand new schools taster challenge has been launched and is available to play now. This new online cipher competition runs in advance of the Challenge’s main schools programme and has been developed by Craig Rice, an Information Security Specialist from Royal Holloway, University of London. The winning team will be announced at the British Military Tournament in December, for which successful entrants will receive free tickets.
Chloe Smith, Minister at the Cabinet Office: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to ensure that school pupils with a talent for cyber security are identified, inspired and enabled. The UK already has a world-wide reputation in education and learning and we aim to make this the same for cyber. The Schools Competition builds on existing Cyber Security Challenge competitions and outreach which has until now been targeted at older students and adults. This latest initiative to attract introduce children in secondary education to cyber security is an excellent way of bringing talent into this area, helping young people to discover why cyber security matters and inspiring them to take up the profession. It will enable us to establish a pipeline of talented people to populate the UK cyber security job pool of the future. I would encourage as many schools as possible to participate in this exciting challenge.’
Stephanie Daman, CEO, Cyber Security Challenge UK: “Securing our most valuable information online is a major priority for the UK as an economy and a society, and requires an increasing flow of new talented young people into cyber security. However, at present, we simply don’t see the numbers coming through that we need. The long term solution must start at the grassroots and that means helping teachers find new fun, exciting and accessible ways for younger audiences to discover why cyber security matters and inspire them to want to defend the UK online. Through this new schools programme we can help teachers take the opportunities and intellectual challenges of this exciting profession into the classroom and ensure more students are interested and ready to embark on a career as a cyber security professional.”
Karen Price OBE, CEO, e-skills UK: “e-skills UK is delighted to support the Cyber Security Challenge Schools Competition. Cyber security expertise is vital not just to the IT industry but to all sectors of the UK economy, so it's exciting to see school students given the opportunity to develop their abilities in this area. We're keen to see all secondary schools make the most of this initiative.”
Julia Adamson, Education Manager, South West Grid for Learning Trust: “We are thrilled to be working in partnership with Cyber Security Challenge UK to bring this new and exciting opportunity to the south west region. Keeping information secure online is vital, the schools programme promises to inspire students and educators alike; as students are challenged to use initiative, logic and creativity to crack the codes and create their own ciphers!”
Stephen Whiteley, CEO Landau Forte Trust which operates a group of Academies in Derby and Tamworth said “We are enthusiastic to encourage our students to take part in this exciting opportunity. As well as being an enjoyable and competitive activity, importantly we think the challenges have real potential to engage and motivate students opening their minds to new ways of thinking and design leading to considering a career opportunity in cyber security. We expect the programmes will bring students into an arena of possible employment that they otherwise may never have thought about.”