Teenagers in lockdown thrown a lifeline with virtual cyber school

News by Andy McCorkell

Industry experts ‘encouraged’ by a government bid to plug a tech skills gap with a training boost for young people in preparation for life after Coronavirus.

Teenagers in lockdown have been thrown a lifeline with a new government scheme setting up a new virtual cyber school.

The CyberFirst courses offer young people the chance to try their hand at being a “cyber security agent” from the comfort on their sofa.

And the leaders of the cyber-security sector have given a thumbs up to the new government-backed scheme, that will launch with online classes to develop problem-solving and cyber skills.

Paul McEvatt, senior threat and intelligence manager, Fujitsu EMEIA said: “It’s hugely encouraging to see the government taking proactive steps in training good cyber-security practice to younger users.

“The current lockdown has caused a spike in internet usage, which in turn can increase the risk to users of all ages. The training will not only teach children how to protect themselves from cybercriminals during the current period, but hopefully encourage them to practice good cybersecurity beyond lockdown.

“When considering the current skills gap we’re facing as a country in the cyber-security sector, governmental initiatives like these are vitally important in ensuring the UK doesn’t lag behind.”

Thousands of teens are being offered a place on the courses to learn how to crack codes, fix security flaws and dissect criminals’ digital trails thanks to  - the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) CyberFirst summer courses launched online.

Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET said: “This is a fantastic initiative as children need as much knowledge as they can digest. In fact, I’m surprised that cybersecurity is not part of the official curriculum yet as it is becoming a vital part of our children’s future and arguably linked to our future economy.

“Children in the UK could be at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world should they not learn these important skills early enough, so we need to act now. The skills gap will shrink with help from such initiatives like this, but it won’t reduce at a quick enough rate without government intervention in schools making it as important as maths or literacy.”

Gareth Williams, VP secure communication and information systems for Thales UK added: “This is a great chance to educate the next generation about the vital role cybersecurity plays in keeping the UK safe and the exciting careers they can have. In the past the industry has been too slow to engage with kids meaning generations being turned off from IT-related careers before they get older.

“The UK has a chance to lead the way in security for years to come by educating its future professionals on the vital security methods each business should be implementing like encryption and two-factor authentication."

Cybersecurity has a well-known skills shortage, with more than a million unfilled jobs globally, with a report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) claiming that 408,000 businesses in the UK lack advanced cybersecurity skills.

And businesses almost always hire cybersecurity professionals as graduates, who are hugely in demand.

Peter Carlisle, is vice president at nCipher Security, a firm that is an expert in encryption key management and the protection of content and intellectual property commented: “Lack of skilled personnel is consistently quoted in nCipher’s annual Global Encryption Trends Study as a cause for concern when managing cybersecurity defences” 

“The launch of CyberFirst online courses from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is a splendid initiative to engage the younger generation and help bridge this gap.”

Of course, it can be apprenticeships that can help young people start using new technical skills quickly and put into practice what they’ve learned in a real-world environment.

Dominic Harvey, director at technology jobs board CWJobs, said: “Free online courses such as the new virtual cyber school are great initiatives to help millions of teenagers keep their minds active, expand their knowledge and existing skill-sets during this crisis.

“By securing interest early on and encouraging students to better understand how to protect others online, this particular initiative is welcomed as a move that will hopefully boost the future of an industry that suffers from an obvious skills gap.”

Students will learn how to code and carry out cybersecurity operations in an instructor-led virtual classroom

NCSC chief executive officer Ciaran Martin said: “Technology is helping us all cope with the coronavirus crisis and is playing an essential role in keeping our businesses moving and our society connected.”

CyberFirst provider QA chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield added: “The road to the UK’s economic recovery from this pandemic will be built on the skills we learn at this time. That’s why it was critical that initiatives like CyberFirst were pivoted to virtual delivery, so they could go ahead as planned.”

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