Dozens of cybersecurity enthusiasts have been busy trying to identify the source of a simulated cyber attack on the city of London today but an alarming proportion of them are male.

The Cyber Security Challenge UK competition, designed by experts from GCHQ, BT, Lockheed Martin, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and others, received 5,673 applications but just one female, Ese Oduyoye, has made it down to final 42.

Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham ©GCHQ

“One of our issues is a gender balance,” admitted Nigel Harrison, a board director at Cyber Security Challenge UK. “We only have one female finalist. We really need to do desperately better than that and we’re working hard to try and address a better gender balance in the next year or two.

He added: “It’s a real challenge finding females to join the profession. It should be equally appealing to both genders.”

Ese Oduyoye ©Cyber Security Challenge UK 

Oduyoye said: “I might be the only female candidate this year but the fact that it’s one more female than last year shows that we are making some progress. I know there have been many interesting and inspiring female candidates in the other stages of the competition this year, and even though they haven’t made it to the final, it’s a significant step, and what the Cyber Security Challenge is doing today is all about this.”

Cyber Security Challenge UK was unable to specify how many of this year's total applicants were female because "the information in a database format that would make it easy to give you a percentage or a figure."

Several of the competition’s previous winners, such as Will Shackleton, have gone on to receive prizes and some are even awarded jobs at one of the sponsor organisations.

A GCHQ employee called Chris, whose asks for his surname not to be revealed for security reasons, told Techworld: “Over the last three or four challenges we’ve taken about half a dozen people.”

“We’re a highly technical organisational and we need exceptional talent. The Cyber Security challenge has demonstrated year in year out that it does identify those kind of people.”

GCHQ has publicly acknowledged that it can be difficult to find people with the right skills.

“We do struggle but we’re not the only ones,” said Chris. “If you talk our industry partners and other government departments in this space [MI5 and MI6] they’ll all say the same thing.”

The two day long "Masterclass" final represents the culmination of more than 10 months of qualifying rounds from the Cyber Security Challenge UK, which aims to bring more talented people into the cyber security profession and address a critical skills shortage that affects government bodies, businesses and citizens alike.

Eight finalists in this year's Masterclass also took part in last year's competition. 

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