About time UK applied World Cup mentality to cyber skills
The government’s ‘spy summer school’ has made headlines as it promises to teach children as young as 14 how to help protect the UK from cyber attacks.
GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre has teamed up with training experts QA and education charity The Smallpeice Trust to provide 1,150 free places for promising 14-to-17-year-olds around Britain.
The authorities should be applauded for promoting the cyber security agenda. There is clearly a huge skills gap in this area and, as technology accelerates and businesses in all sectors become increasingly reliant upon it, the challenge to bridge it will only intensify.
However, for me, the real story here slipped under the radar somewhat: the specialist nature of the courses.
I discussed the idea of training ‘modern-day James Bonds’ with an education leader in an enterprise-level firm. He works every day with kids who will go on to pursue security careers – many of them at the very top level – and had an interesting take.
“Kids come in and tell me ‘I want to do cyber’. That’s great, but if you want to be James Bond, you’ve got to learn how to wield a weapon, become a black belt in several martial arts and also be an elite athlete.
“It doesn’t work like that in the real world: you’ve got to specialise. You’ve got to keep it exciting and mysterious, but keep it real.”
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In essence, some of these teenagers get a buzz out of the defensive side of security while others enjoy attacking. If England boss Gareth Southgate had simply picked the most talented 20 outfield players for his World Cup squad, he would have so many attacking players that he would struggle to pick a competitive side for the opening match, never mind the rest of the tournament (two further games, presumably).
The same is true with any large company’s approach to cyber security and tech in general. In simple terms, it needs defenders (to man firewalls), creative midfielders (to build systems) and attackers (to enact penetration tests and find security flaws).
Then there are specialists within positions: just as strikers Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy are very different players, enterprise firms need engineers who specialise in tech such as networking and Windows.
We should applaud the authorities’ desire to give youngsters the skills to succeed in a well-paid industry which will never be short of positions to fill.
But we should be even more heartened that it is taking steps towards giving them what they really need: the opportunity to learn skills as diverse as cracking codes, securing IT networks and smart devices and protecting friends from hacks. Ideally they could also benefit in future from dipping their toes into areas such as encryption and social engineering.
When they know what they are really good at and gain the most satisfaction from, they can then begin to focus on that area. There will certainly be plenty of teams vying for their services in the coming years.
I’ll be focusing on cyber security and the Internet of Things for the BusinessCloud team. Please email your thoughts and social media stories to firstname.lastname@example.org .