Cyber security to be taught in schools

The school summer holidays are almost over, which means mornings can get back to some sort of slightly hectic normality – but there could be a new lesson on the kids’ curriculum this new term, as cyber security is to be taught in schools.

What’s the problem with cyber security?

The UK has been hit by 188 high-level cyber attacks in three months, including some state-sponsored attacks from Russia and China that have threatened national security, with a staggering 145,942,680 records leaked in June alone.

2017 was a big year for data breaches, with massive firms like Uber, Equifax and Yahoo all falling victim, alongside all manner of small companies and organisations. This infographic from IT Governance Blog will give you an idea of how big a problem we’re facing with cyber crime, a problem that is growing year-on-year.

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Cyber crime of all levels is a growing problem for the UK, and a Commons committee warned a skills shortage was leaving the UK wide open to attack.

So serious is the threat of criminals hacking into critical UK computer systems, it’s ranked as one of the top four threats to national security.

And so the government has come up with an innovative plan to increase security – put cyber security on the national curriculum to bring through the next generation of cyber security experts.

What’s the plan?

Schoolchildren in England will be offered lessons in cyber security, as the government looks to convert a generation into cyber crime experts to defend the UK from attacks. It’s hoped that, from September, around 6,000 pupils aged 14 and over will sign up to spend up to four hours a week on the subject, in what will be a five-year pilot.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is providing £20m for the lessons, which will be designed to fit around pupils’ current courses and exams.

Digital and Culture Minister Matt Hancock said: “This forward-thinking programme will see thousands of the best and brightest young minds given the opportunity to learn cutting-edge cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies.

A growing industry

There are currently 58,000 cyber security experts employed in the UK, and it’s one of the country’s fastest growing industries, but it’s getting harder to recruit the right people with the right skills.

The Public Accounts Committee said in a statement:”We are determined to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future and these extra-curricular clubs will help identify and inspire future talent.”

And the government is already providing university funding and work placements for promising students, and an apprenticeship scheme has been started to train and recruit young people with a “natural flair for problem-solving” and are “passionate about technology”.

Cyber security expert Brian Lord, a former deputy director at GCHQ, told BBC Breakfast: “There is perception that cyber security is all about techno geeks who have long hair, glasses, wear heavy metal t-shirts and drink red bull.

“There are those, and they do an extraordinarily good job. But there is a whole range of other activities… that can appeal to a wide cross section of children, graduates and apprentices, and at the moment they don’t know what [is on] offer.

“The more exposure [children] can get [the more it will] prepare them for a future career and, as that generation needs to understand how to be safe online, you get a double benefit.”

New UK cyber security centre

In addition to the national curriculum initiative, the Queen yesterday opened The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of intelligence agency GCHQ – and part of a £1.9bn five-year strategy – to protect the country from cyber attacks. Or, as NCSC chief Ciaran Martin put it: “We want to make the UK the hardest target”.

The NCSC is trialing services to discover vulnerabilities in public sector websites, help government departments better manage spoofing of their email, and disable the tens of thousands of phishing sites currently affecting the UK.

NCSC technical director, Dr Ian Levy said: “We’re actively working to reduce the harm caused by cyber-attacks against the UK and will use the government as a guinea pig for all the measures we want to see done by industry at national scale.”

The results of the trials will be published and openly available to encourage collaboration, and the centre will be publishing some of its code as open source, so others can use the techniques.

What do you think? Is the scheme a good idea, or does the government need to do more to fight the the threat of cyber attacks?