Editorial

Government reports increase in girls exploring cybersecurity

NCSC says applications from girls for its CyberFirst summer courses have surged by 60 percent

Posted 7 September 2020 by

The number of girls looking to learn new cybersecurity skills has surged this summer after courses went online for the first time, new figures reveal.

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 1,770 after moving from the classroom to online.

And while the number of applications from boys saw a 31 percent rise, girls applying increased by 60 percent compared to 2019.

“I’m delighted to see that more young people are exploring the exciting world of cybersecurity, and it’s especially encouraging to see such a level of interest from girls,” said Chris Ensor, NCSC deputy director for Cyber Growth.

“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.”

NCSC says CyberFirst aims to ensure greater diversity in the next generation of cybersecurity 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 a month after the NCSC pledged to take action to improve diversity and inclusion in the cybersecurity sector, as just 15 percent of the UK’s cyber security workforce are women and 14 percent of employees are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

A recent report by (ISC)² shows that women still face discrimination within their chosen cybersecurity careers, and are a fifth are paid less than their male counterparts.

Next generation of talent

“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 cybersecurity,” said digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman.

“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.”

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.

Other CyberFirst programmes include CyberFirst bursaries and apprenticeship schemes, which offer financial help for university-goers and paid summer work placements with more than a hundred organisations to kickstart careers in cyber security.

There is also Empower Digital Cyber Week (November 9 – 13), where students can watch and join online cyber sessions given by speakers in academia, industry and government.

Elsewhere, the annual CyberFirst Girls competition is open to teams to test their cyber skills in a bid to be crowned the UK’s top codebreakers.

The government also says more than a third of registrations for its online cyber skills platform Cyber Discovery launched in June are from female students.