SECURITY agency GCHQ is one of the groups behind a national schools competition to identify online crime fighters of the future, which is coming to Scotland for the first time.

Cyber Games Scotland is organised by Cyber Security Challenge UK and is part of a programme of Scottish cyber security careers initiatives.

The initiative, which is open to pupils aged between 14 and 17, includes a summer school in Glasgow called CyberFirst Futures, run by the Smallpeice Trust, GCHQ and the IT training group QA. This will give pupils first-hand experience of defending against cyber-attacks and is backed by Skills Development Scotland’s Digital World campaign.

Last year the Global Information Security Workforce Study forecast a global shortage of 1.5 million cyber security professionals by 2020, while a PwC report found that cyber-attacks cost UK firms an average of £1.4 million per incident.

The competition will give hundreds of young people across the country the chance to explore the world of ethical hacking through a series of activities and challenges taking place between this month and October.

Jason Stanton, schools programme manager, Cyber Security Challenge UK, said: “Cyber knowledge is invaluable in today’s globally-connected world.

“Taking part in clubs and competitions like this will allow students to learn and get excited about careers in cyber security, a field which is crying out for more talent.

“By engaging with industry they can talk to real life professionals and see for themselves what their future career path may look like.

“The more we can inspire young people, the more we can work to address the huge skills gap within the cyber security sector.”

The first hurdle for teams is to create their own ciphers – an algorithm used to encrypt or decrypt data – which will be shared online with other schools whose students have to try to break the codes.

Those who make it through the preliminary rounds will go head-to-head with other finalists to demonstrate their code-breaking skills to industry experts in a series of live, timed tests.

Previous competitions involved a range of cyber security activities such as conducting an investigation of a hacker’s hotel room to find passwords to access computer systems, various forms of social engineering which highlight human cyber vulnerabilities and performing digital forensics on networks to intercept and block malicious attacks.

Importantly, teams must adhere to the strict ethical and legal checks that real-life businesses and law enforcement agencies are supposed to abide by.

The CyberFirst Futures camp is a four-day residential course designed by GCHQ experts and delivered by the Smallpeice Trust and academia.

This takes place at Glasgow Caledonian University from July 26-29 with 50 places available on a first-come basis. All places are fully funded.

Martin Beaton, Cyber Security Network Integrator for Scotland, said: “The industry already offers huge commercial possibilities that are only going to increase as more and more of our lives move online.

“It’s important that we act now to ensure that we have the talent pool needed to take advantage of these opportunities.”

James Alterman, from the Smallpeice Trust, said: “The cyber sector has seen great investment in recent years and the UK now earns £2bn in cyber security exports.”