Mark Hughes, BT Security, opened the event
Mark Hughes, BT Security, opened the event

The Cyber Security Challenge UK has launched its new programme for 2017 and says that with the addition of extra events and schemes, it's bigger and better than ever before.

The launch, held during an evening reception at the BT Centre in the City of London on Wednesday, drew 150 representatives from the cyber-security industry including sponsors and partner organisations.

They heard from Mark Hughes, vice president of BT Security, who told guests that BT was very excited to be the lead sponsor for the Challenge this year.

Mark Hughes, BT Security
Mark Hughes (All pics: Tom Reeve)

Lead sponsorship rotates among the sponsors on an annual basis. Platinum sponsors will support a number of face-to-face events during the year and BT will sponsor the Cyber Security Masterclass at the end of 2017.

Hughes said that the Challenge had proven invaluable to BT Security, pointing out that there were 30 people working in the division who wouldn't be there if it weren't for the Challenge.

The Challenge underscores the importance of cyber-security training, he said, and BT Security, which employs 500 people, will provide 80,000 hours of training to provide a range of skills for staff.

Bob Nowill, chairman of the Cyber Security Challenge UK, said the key challenge going forward was scaling up its activities to help address the UK skills gap.

Bob Nowill, Cyber Security Challenge UK
Bob Nowill 

The Challenge will link in with the updated National Cyber Security Strategy and work with the National Cyber Security Centre where possible to achieve this.

Les Anderson, BT's CISO, told the audience that the ever changing threat landscape meant it was necessary to continue to bring new ideas and new talent into the organisation.

Going forward, he said, the imbalance in the number of male to female staff was a continuing concern and he welcomed the recent news that “Q” at MI6 is a woman, hoping it will inspire more women to go into tech jobs and especially cyber-security.

He revealed data that BT has collected on the seasonal patterns in cyber attacks, noting that there was a distinctive downturn in activity in the summer, with autumn, winter and spring trending higher, but this pales into insignificance against the long term increase in cyber attacks which continue to plague BT and so many other organisations.

He also revealed that BT employs 100 pen testers – a veritable hacker army – and that there were regular red team/blue team exercises to test the company's defenders.

Les Anderson, BT CISO
Les Anderson 

Rob Partridge has the specific job of closing the cyber skills gap which, he told the audience, is about showing people the various routes into the profession. He said that other professions do a better job of this and that the cyber-security industry could learn from the healthcare and accountancy professions how to design career pathways.

Nigel Harrison, director of business engagement at the Challenge, welcomed its newest platinum sponsor, Barclays Bank. As a result of the new sponsorship, the Challenge will organise an extra Face-to-Face competition this year, bringing the total to five events.

He said new games and a new user interface had been added to the online Challenge portal, CyPhyinx.

Finally, he made a plea for organisations to consider neural diversity when hiring staff for cyber-security roles. A quick poll of the audience revealed that only one person had received training in how to interview a person on the autistic spectrum, a situation that the Challenge aims to address in the coming year.

The Cyber Security Challenge is about encouraging young people into careers in cyber, and there were two people on hand to discuss their experiences.

Ben Jackson was the winner of the Masterclass competition in 2016. A sixth-form student, Ben has already been given an unconditional offer to go to Royal Holloway university to study Information Security.

Ben Jackson, winner of 2016 Cyber Security Challenge UK Masterclass
Ben Jackson, winner of 2016 Cyber Security Challenge UK Masterclass

And Beth Cook, who joined the BT Security apprenticeship scheme in October, told SC Media UK that she had gone straight from sixth-form college into the scheme after doing an A-level in ICT.

Early days still, she said she was looking forward to her two-and-a-half years of hands on experience in cyber-security. She has already developed a better understanding of vulnerabilities and malware and would like to work on the problem of social engineering and reverse engineering malware.