Government avert cyber security ‘gap’ with drive to recruit computer skills
Schemes range from GCHQ interest in small firms to schools’ hacking race, with £210m boost to security strategy.
Ministers are leading a recruitment drive for computer scientists and hackers as they try to avert a potential shortfall in the number of skilled cyber security experts over the next decade.
One scheme designed to identify and encourage talented children through a hacking competition is being extended to schools across the country, while an Open University course planned for summer next year will aim to attract 200,000 students into the industry.
The government is already funding apprenticeships and trainee schemes, including one at GCHQ and is also subsidising academics from Africa, Asia and America who join Cranfield University’s cyber policy course.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude – giving an update on progress on the government’s two-year old cyber security strategy – said GCHQ was increasingly looking to British small and medium-sized firms to recruit staff from and increase its cyber security expertise, recently courting experts at an event at Cheltenham racecourse.
Maude said: “We need to sustain and grow the capabilities of UK cybersecurity, and it is now vital we ensure that we have young talent coming through our education system and the workplace. While the online world has grown exponentially over the last few years, our education system hasn’t kept pace.”
He cited the town of Malvern, Worcestershire, which has developed a cluster of around 40 specialist companies, and also gave the example of one talented apprentice who had been thrown out of school. “Talent won’t always be found in the usual places. Some of the brightest and best are self-taught. We have to avoid a gap in the UK’s cyber defences in the years to come. There will never be a moment when we dare to say ‘we are there’. This will always be a work in progress.”
The government wants to increase both public and business awareness of security issues. A basic cyber security standard is being developed for businesses and will be extended to government departments, Maude said.
He said more than 250 companies have joined the Cyber security Information Sharing Programme (CISP) which encourages businesses to share problems and expertise in dealing with threats.
Adrian Nish, analyst at BAE Systems Detica, said the company was targeted several times each day by various cyber-attacks. “We can use the profile of these attacks to defend ourselves going forward. Where CISP comes in is that by bringing details of various attacks together, we are able to build a bigger profile of what that threat looks like and are able to look at how to mitigate it.
“One recent example is where a company in the aerospace sector reported a compromised UK website and fed that information into CISP. It transpired it wasn’t a random attack, but one perpetrated by a particular known attack group. That information could then be briefed out to other sector members and the threat picture added to.”
The new National Crime Agency’s specialist cyber crime unit was launched in spring 2013. Detailing a recent case by the National Cyber Crime Unit, lead officer Stewart Garrick detailed how six hackers used free ads site Gumtree to harvest email addresses, planted malware on victims’ machines and eventually stole online banking details. The group is thought to have earned as much as £4m from the scam but last month each member was jailed for up to seven years.
Another government initiative, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, supports private companies managing critical services and in early 2014, the new national Computer Emergency Response Team will open to coordinate response to major cyber emergencies.
The government dedicated £650m to its Cyber Security Strategy when it launched in 2011, and has committed to spend a further £210m by 2016. Maude said extra money had been allocated because, despite economic restraints, cyber security is a priority concern for the government.
Maude, who said he is known as “Dr No” within Whitehall for his insistence on cutting budgets, claimed the government has saved £5.4bn in the first half of 2013, 7% less than 2012.