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National Cyber Competition’s Regional Semi-Final hosts young tech enthusiasts from across the South West

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Forty of the South West’s most talented young tech enthusiasts are set to battle it out in the regional semi-final of the National Matrix Challenge 2020.

Forty of the South West’s most talented young tech enthusiasts are set to battle it out in the regional semi-final of the National Matrix Challenge 2020.

The South West event is part of a national competition that attracted 65,000 entries. The top three young people from the regional semi-final’s 11-14 and 15-17 age categories will be invited to compete in the national final in July, in a bid to be crowned Matrix Challenge National Champion.

The semi-final, organised by the award winning South West Regional Cyber Crime Unit (SW RCCU) and hosted at the University of the West of England (UWE), will see the finalists, all aged 11 to 17 and selected from more than 4,000 entrants, take on a variety of interactive challenges run by companies including Frazer-Nash Consultancy, CybSafe, Cyber Security Associates, Rolls-Royce, Leonardo and BT.

Detective Chief Inspector Gavin Webb, from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) said:

“This competition is a really positive way of encouraging young people to be openly passionate about wanting to develop their cyber skills, to think about the massive range of career opportunities out there, whilst at the same time really getting across some vital truths about the need to do so in a safe and legal way.

“With 17 being the average age of a convicted cyber criminal, it’s vital to harness their passion for tech and show them the range of career paths that it could lead to.

“A lot of these young people’s knowledge will far outweigh that of their parents, even their teachers – and the risk is they look to online sources to build on that. What is a healthy curiosity then runs the risk of becoming illegal hacking. Matrix Challenge and the day-to-day work of our Prevent officers is about setting and keeping these young people on the right – potentially very bright – career path.”

Ben Johns, Prevent officer with the SW RCCU, said: “More than 4,000 young people entered the competition from across our region, which is a fantastic reflection of the interest and level of skill out there.

“The challenges they’ll face aren’t designed to identify genius coders – there’s a real mix of practical and group-based activities, from conducting research on spoofed social media profiles to vital decision making exercises. I have high hopes the national winner will be among us on Saturday!”

Elaine Brown, Unlock Cyber Project Manager at UWE Bristol said: “While using advanced technology has become part of our everyday lives, the challenge now is to learn how to protect ourselves in this digital world. The threats are huge, but so too are the opportunities for young people to work in cyber security, an industry that keeps us all safe.”

Sam Geis, Head of Human Resources at Frazer-Nash said: “At Frazer-Nash, we are committed to the promotion of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. Inspiring the next generation to develop digital skills that will benefit society, and deliver a secure, sustainable, world, is a core part of our ethos, vision and values. Our people are passionate about helping young people recognise the importance of digital and STEM subjects to our economy, society and environment.

“Our people take part in STEM engagement activities and local community projects, particularly with school children and young people. They run interactive activities that bring digital skills, science, technology, engineering and mathematics to life. By showing how these skills apply to real world problems, we help children and young adults understand the importance of STEM in delivering solutions to many of the problems that face society, and how they can change the world for the better.

“We’ve worked with a range of organisations – including EngineeringUK, Surrey SATRO, and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) – to deliver activities that engage and inspire young people, and help them to develop the creative problem-solving skills that will see them invent the technologies of the future.”

A Government study found that more than half of all businesses and charities (54 per cent) have a basic technical cyber security skills gap, falling to 18 per cent in public sector organisations. Given the inherent nature of cyber threats to a digital economy, such a capability gap is not sustainable, and this project is aiming to address this issue. The competition is also important because it places a large emphasis on teaching computer law, and digital ethics, something which is lacking in the UK education system.