One of Australia's most secretive intelligence agencies has shown 15 bright minds from Canberra and regional New South Wales where a career in cyber security could take them.
The year 12 students attended a workshop on Wednesday run by the Australian Signals Directorate at the ANU-ASD Co-lab as part of the National Youth Science Forum.
The ASD is hoping to entice the high-achieving students into a career in Australia's growing cyber security industry to meet the demand for homegrown skills.
Angela Weckert of Orange High School said she was surprised as how much mathematics was involved in the area of cryptography.
"It wasn't something I thought of before as a career, but after the workshop seems more interesting and valuable," she said.
Canberra Grammar School student Sithum Dissanayake said he could now see a clear link between his interests in high-level maths and computer science and could see himself working at the agency.
"It's been a lot of fun to learn about what they do at ASD."
Australia's cyber security workforce is forecast to grow by 7000 new workers over the next four years but with natural attrition the number needed will be closer to 10,000, according to industry network AustCyber. In the three years between 2017 and 2020 the workforce grew by 4000 workers to a total of 26,500.
Meanwhile, interest in higher-level maths among year 12 student has been waning. Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute 2020 discipline profile shows less than 30 per cent of year 12 students chose to study intermediate or high level maths.
Australia's TAFEs and universities have stepped up to the challenge of training professionals and now half of all Australian universities offer a specific degree or major in cyber security.
The Australian National University has answered the call and established of the ASD-ANU Co-Lab in 2019. Vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt said cyber security was not just about spies and espionage, it was now a major part of our society.
"Much like the Internet, cyber touches everything we do, including our personal lives, our professional workplaces and our day-to-day business," Professor Schmidt said.
"So we must be prepared to deal with and understand the challenges cyber presents - as well as the opportunities it provides. At ANU, we are committed to training and skilling the next generation of cyber professionals, as well as helping the nation successfully navigate this emerging field.
"That's why our partnership with ASD and the Co-Lab is so vital, and that's why it is encouraging to see young Australians attending this cyber security workshop on our campus today."
ASD Director-General Rachel Noble said the agency needed to master technology to achieve its mission and solve some of the most testing problems imaginable.
"That's why we need people with specialist skills and the adaptability, creativity and imagination to out-think our toughest adversaries," Ms Noble said.
"ASD is a large employer of people with STEM qualifications and provides exciting career opportunities through its Graduate, Apprenticeship and Cadetship programs - including a Co-Lab collaboration with ANU."
Defence Minister Senator Linda Reynolds said the Australian government's investment in cyber security would help recruit 500 workers to the ASD.
"Our next generation of STEM students are critically important for both our future productivity and our nation's security," she said.