We were just a team of girls being encouraged to enter this Cyberfirst competition by our teacher. Little did we know what lay ahead of us in our rollercoaster journey, and never in a million years did we think that we would get so far…
First, we had to tackle the online round created by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). These were a week’s worth of tough challenges which brutally tested us and meant that we had to use our logical thinking and resilience. They were designed for us to use our knowledge on the topics cryptography, cyber security, networking and coding. We found these challenging but at the same time fun. As we progressed through the week, we each built a strong, close relationship with each other. This competition furthered us to develop our communication and teamwork skills as some of the challenges were so tough that it took many hours to figure out even a slightest idea of what it was asking us to do.
To get an idea of what they were like, here is a quick example. The aim is to use CyberChef. This is the software we used numerous times to help decrypt codes.
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Our message to next year’s Year 8 talent is that they should go into the competition enthusiastically and optimistically persevere throughout what will be the ongoing online round. And remember if there are many teams entering the competition from your school alone you should use that as an advantage, just as we did! We took it in our stride to compete against our fellow competitors helping when advice was needed but careful not to give away too much!
We were essentially brain dead come the end of the week and our cyber security adventure was over. That was until our teacher enlightened us that we had made it to the final. Our jaws dropped and we were speechless. No words came out of our mouths as we were just astounded by the sound of the news. One of us even burst into tears of happiness! Even days after we found out, it still hadn’t sunken in that we were going to Manchester. Never in a million years did we expect that we would even get into the top 100 in the country of cyber-savvy girls let alone the top 10!! Advice to those like us who unexpectedly make it into the finals of the CyberFirst Girls Competition is to remember to have fun! You have made it to the final, with teams from the whole nation, you are in the top 10 of them! Stay proud and have fun!
Manchester was an awe-inspiring experience. Even though we had to battle the snow to journey there, we eventually arrived safely (after one of us crashed on the way but thankfully was fine). We were buzzing with elation and there was a flutter of eagerness and enthusiasm in our stomachs. The first day was jam-packed with the most fun experiences and activities including an exhilarating tour around the BBC. Furthermore, we were delighted to a divine dinner at the Manchester Museum in the evening and the food was mouth-wateringly delicious. During this first day, we were set about an ice-breaking task to go around the other teams and tell them a bit about our school. We provided them with one fact and one lie. The challenge was to guess which was true and which was fake. Our fact was that our head of music (Mr O) can be classified as a giant. The lie was that the founder of our school is buried in our school grounds. We are very delighted to say that we had the most teams fooled and were then named the best lying team there!
The next day, after staying at the luxurious Macdonald Manchester hotel, we were driven to Old Trafford where the actual final was held. For most of the day, we were solving challenges from the scenario we were given. We were working for an imaginary company called Bl!nk and they had suffered from a cyber security attack. Our ultimate goal was to get their files back which had been decrypted. We applied our knowledge from the online round into a real life situation and this time, it wasn’t just solving challenges behind a computer screen. Emails had to be written to the company and we even had to do a presentation in front of experts in this field which was incredibly nerve-wracking. The leader board was constantly changing so it was hard to predict whether you’d stay at the top or not. When we completed the challenges, both online and in Manchester, we felt a wave of gladness (and relief!) wash over us at completing the competition.
We were all ecstatic when handed the invitations to the palace. As a team we went from a handful of unsuspecting teenage girls who did not really know each other to a tightly knitted group. When it came to the day not even the bad weather could dampen our spirits.
When we got to Waterloo Station in London our anticipation grew even further. As we were traipsing along the wet streets of London we could truly see how lucky we were as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Finally we arrived. Our jaws dropped as we gazed upon the stunning exterior of the Palace. After waiting for a few minutes we realised that both outside and inside of the palace was magnificent and we, yet again, could not believe that we were actually there.
When it came to meeting the Duke of York he was so genuine and nice, in fact the whole atmosphere of the room and the afternoon tea was really enjoyable and we all hope that this demonstrates what can come out of such hard work and dedication. What made it even better was that we got to do it with some brand new friends.
The whole opportunity was so inspiring and even though we didn’t win, we are eternally grateful to the NCSC for giving us this amazing opportunity; none of us will ever forget this incredible experience. As we move forward in our lives and progress through school, we will always demonstrate an interest in cyber security especially as it is becoming more prominent in our society today. We are all looking to pursue a career in this field; it is an incredibly rewarding occupation.
We would say to any teams looking to do this competition to give it a go! None of us expected to get to the final we all just wanted to have fun doing something we love.
Thank you again to the NCSC for opening this door in our lives and giving us a part to play in this fantastic competition. We also want to thank our teacher, Mr Taylor, as if he hadn’t told us about this competition, we wouldn’t even be here to write this blog! Again, experiencing these amazing opportunities that we’ll never forget has really inspired us so thank you to everyone who made this all possible!
Little Miss Virtuals (or the Best Liars!!) from St. Augustine’s Catholic College
LottieH, RachelD, NiamhW, GraceD