Gov. Phil Murphy is encouraging high school females to take advantage of an opportunity to explore their skill for cybersecurity and computer science by taking part in the 2019 Girls Go Cyberstart program.

Jared Maples, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said the idea is to encourage participants to explore their interests in cyber studies, learn core cybersecurity skills and build confidence in problem solving.

Girls can sign up until March 20 at Girls can either take the challenge alone or work with a team. There's an online series of challenges that allows students to act as cyber protection agents to solve cyber security related puzzles and explore exciting topics such as digital forensics.

The girls have about a month to solve the puzzle.

In 2018, 453 girls in 44 New Jersey schools participated in Girls Go CyberStart. The second-ranked team in the country last year was from Bergen County. Maples said the goal for 2019 is to triple those numbers. He wants 1,000 girls at least and more than 100 schools to participate.

Prizes include at least ten $500 scholarships to help pay for college. Some of other money prizes even go into the thousands, said Maples. There's pizza parties and a ceremonial event at the end of the competition to honor these girls. Maples speaks to the group of girls and their parents and Murphy signs a letter honoring them.

Maples said only girls can be involved in this particular competition "because of the idea that there's a little bit of a lag of young women participating, not just in cyber efforts like this, but as an industry in cyber security as a profession."

The goal is once young women take part in the 2019 Girls Go CyberStart program, they will take this interest in cyber studies on as a career goal and be the next generation of cyber security leaders across the state and the country, said Maples.

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