'Kettles infected with computer virus' – Highgate pupils win GCHQ competition

The Highgate School winners of the CyberFirst Girls Competition, with teacher Eleonora Fontanesi

The Highgate School winners of the CyberFirst Girls Competition, with teacher Eleonora Fontanesi - Credit: Highgate School

Students from Highgate School have been crowned UK cyber security champions after triumphing in the final of a nationwide contest.

The winners of the CyberFirst Girls Competition were Year 8 pupils Iva, Imogen, Sophia and Calliope, along with Alexandra, who helped win the qualifying round and the semi-final.

The contest is run by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ,

In this year’s final round – the first to be held online – the ten finalists applied their skills in cryptography, logic and networking to tasks based on a fictional scenario where "internet of things" devices, including smart kettles and mirrors, were infected with malware.

The Highgate School winners of the CyberFirst Girls Competition

The Highgate School winners of the CyberFirst Girls Competition - Credit: Highgate School

Eleonora Fontanesi, computer Science teacher at Highgate, said: “I am delighted and so proud of the girls. They’ve all worked incredibly hard, training for many lunchtimes and break times too.

"During lockdown, we met virtually almost every day. The final was very exciting and quite tense at times, but they worked really well as a team, which I was so impressed with. They’ve excelled themselves.”

The winning team will receive laptops as part of their prize.

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The contest aims to inspire girls aged 12 and 13 to pursue their interests in technology and consider a career in cyber security – a field where women are still underrepresented in the UK, making up just 16% of the cyber sector workforce.

NCSC chief executive officer Lindy Cameron said: “Congratulations to all the teams in this year’s final – especially the girls from Highgate School for their winning performance.

“This year’s competition has been another success, and we’re particularly grateful to the teachers who supported their students through the challenges of the past year and industry partners for inspiring girls to explore their passion for technology.

“I’m really excited by the number of girls that have shown real interest and aptitude for cyber security – and this will hopefully mean more women in the cyber workforce of the future with the skills they need to protect the UK from online threats.”

The CyberFirst Girls Competition opens annually to girls in Year 8 in England and Wales, S2 in Scotland, and Year 9 in Northern Ireland, and since 2017, more than 46,000 girls have taken part.