Code-breaking and online security in the classroom

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At the start of June, highly talented code breakers were placed in charge of a rescue operation to free a hostage kidnapped by masked criminals. Their mission was to utilise their skills in decrypting  encoded messages and understanding of cyber attacks to locate the victim and unveil the code to diffuse a bomb he was strapped to.

Whilst it might sound like an episode of Spooks, the codebreakers were school pupils aged 14-17 taking part in a Cabinet Office backed nationwide competition run by the Cyber Security Challenge.

Launched at last year's Cheltenham Science Festival, the Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme is backed by major employers, professional bodies and other leading figures in UK cyber security. It has already recruited over 700 Secondary School Teachers from across the UK.

As the risk to systems, networks and data in cyber space posed by cybercrime rises and organisations improve their understanding of the security threats they face, there is an increasing demand for cyber security skills and capability. However despite the UK having a world-class cyber security sector, there is currently a severe shortage of young people entering the sector, and cyber security doesn’t yet feature in the National Curriculum.

To develop practical and usable skills in high demand from industry, the Cyber Security Challenge Schools programme aims to spark students’ interest in code-breaking, by teaching them not only how to crack codes, but also encouraging them to apply what they have learnt and develop their own 'uncrackable ciphers' which are then posted online. Students from each participating school are then asked to crack each other's ciphers in order to score sufficient points to qualify for a Cyber Games final, where the schools champions are identified.

Brian Higgins, Schools Programme Manager at the Cyber Security Challenge UK: “The whole programme, and the Cyber Games in particular, are designed with an adaptive learning ethos which creates scenarios and situations where students have to come up with their own solutions yourself rather than simply being taught what is right and wrong. They are a hugely important initiatives for both the pupils involved, and in the wider context of opening up cyber security to a new generation.

“Basic online safety is invaluable in today’s online. Talented students need a safe outlet to express their cyber skills. This is where Schools programme can play such an important role. By not only introducing pupils to the exciting world of cyber security at an early age, but also giving them an opportunity to talk to real life professionals.”

After the success of its first year the Schools Programme will be back in September 2014 with a newly developed Teaching resource designed specifically to fill the 'Security Gap' in the new Secondary School Computer Science curriculum.

More information on the Cyber Games and the Cyber Security Challenge Schools programme can be found at https://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/cybergames.php

Creative Teaching & Learning
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