GCHQ is reportedly looking to recruit social media and tech savvy teenage girls as the next-generation Jane Bonds. In an effort to recruit more female spies, the agency is set to launch a nationwide CyberFirst competition in February, targeted at schoolgirls aged 13 to 15, according to reports.
The competition is part of the UK's £1.9bn cybersecurity strategy - launched in November 2016 - that hopes to attract the "the brightest and best candidates to protect the nation from future cyberattacks." The competition will be remotely accessible to schools across the nation.
"The CyberFirst Girls Competition allows teams of young women a glimpse of this exciting world and provides a great opportunity to use new skills," GCHQ director Robert Hannigan told The Telegraph. "I work alongside some truly brilliant women who help protect the UK from all manner of online threats. My advice to all potential applicants would be enjoy the experience."
A spokesman for GCHQ said, "Teenage girls from across the UK are being invited to pit their tech skills against one another in a GCHQ competition to find the best and brightest candidates to protect the nation from future cyber attacks.
"Only 10 per cent of the global cyber workforce are female, meaning millions of British women may be missing out on a career they could excel in."
What will the competition involve?
Teenage girls who are going to sign up for the competition will be sent online tests and puzzles in cybersecurity that can be taken on school computers. Applicants can apply in groups of four and complete tests and challenges, which involve coding, cryptography and logic.
The top 10 teams with the highest scores will then be invited to participate in a national final in London. Here, the teams will be given an advanced cybersecurity threat to be investigated. The 10 teams will be required to present their analysis and findings to a panel of spy chiefs. The winning team is slated to be awarded £1,000-worth IT equipment for their school.
In addition to the competition, the CyberFirst initiative will also launch a programme of free residential courses for secondary school pupils. However, this is not the first time that GCHQ has launched special initiatives to attract women. In October 2015, the MI5 posted a job advertisement on Mumsnet, looking to recruit middle-aged women as female spies.