Cyber sleuth pupils have got it cracked

Heather Tweedie, Ciara Courtney, Kate Varga and Grace Dobson, with their teacher Judith McColgan
Heather Tweedie, Ciara Courtney, Kate Varga and Grace Dobson, with their teacher Judith McColgan
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TEENAGE cyber sleuths from the Capital have been praised for their security skills after impressing judges with their code-cracking abilities as the sole Scottish representatives at a UK final.

Grace Dobson, Heather Tweedie, Kate Varga and Ciara Courtney – all aged 15 – from George Heriot’s School, travelled to Lancaster House in Westminster to pit their technological wits against girls from nine other schools from across the country at the national final.

The CyberFirst Girls competition – organised by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is part of GCHQ – saw more than 8000 girls aged 13-15 from across the UK enter the online heats in teams of three or four. The contest was created to raise more awareness of careers in cyber security among girls, because only ten per cent of the global workforce is female.

By reaching the final, the Edinburgh team, who competed under the name ‘Added Value Unit’ finished in the top 0.5 per cent of entrants, and took part in a full-day of digital investigation to unravel a fictional mystery that had seen the fictional Paddock Hill School website hacked.

They finished as runners-up to the Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, after they both decoded the same number of clues, 28, but found ones that did not score quite as highly as the winning team.

Team member Grace Dobson said: “The challenges were really interesting and there was a really wide variety of challenges to do. We enjoyed working as a girls’ team and we all got to work together and consult with each other. It was a really fun competition and the final felt just like a real cyber incident, which made it really interesting.”

The final transformed the historic Lancaster House, just yards from Buckingham Palace, into a live-action cyber centre to test the girls’ security skills through a series of challenging scenarios.

As they worked their way through the challenges to find clues to unravel the hack, they were supported by female tech industry champions including Miriam González, founder of Inspiring Girls – the international campaign to connect female role models with young girls, and wife of ex-deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Alison Whitney, deputy director for digital services at the NCSC, said:“The girls from Edinburgh were very worthy finalists and should be proud to be runners-up; the standard of work was incredibly high and we were very impressed with their work.”

She added: “Having worked in cyber security for over a decade I recommend working in cyber security to any young woman hoping to make a positive impact on the world.

“Cyber security is increasingly important to help people live and work online, and we hope CyberFirst Girls will help young women develop skills that could lead to a dynamic and rewarding career.”