Trained teenagers to form the UK’s first line of defence against cyber-attacks
Teenagers are to be trained by the Government in cyber-security in order to boost Britain’s defences against online attacks.
The scheme forms part of the Government’s efforts to guard against a future skills shortage amid mounting concern over the damage hackers or terrorists could inflict on the country’s economy and infrastructure.
Security experts have warned the UK faces a growing threat from cyber-attacks and the danger has been underlined by allegations about Russian interference in the US presidential election.
Officials say the new Cyber Schools Programme aims to support and encourage schoolchildren to develop some of the key skills they would need to work in cyber security and help defend the nation’s businesses against online threats.
Ministers are making up to £20m available for extracurricular sessions which will see expert instructors drafted in to teach, test and train teenagers selected for the initiative.
A “cyber curriculum” will be drawn up to mix classroom and online teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience.
The scheme - led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) - is aimed at those aged between 14 and 18, with a target for at least 5,700 teenagers to be trained by 2021.
Although the move was welcomed by the NSPCC, the charity said that children also needed to be taught how to protect themselves.
Claire Lilley, head of online safety at the NSPCC, said: “Plans to offer lessons in cyber security to school children can be part of the first crucial steps in preparing young people for the challenges and opportunities online.
“Children should also get lessons in how to keep themselves safe online, as soon as they first start using the internet. That can cover anything from using judgment about what’s safe to post online, to reporting inappropriate content or abuse.
“Education is the key to teaching children how to use the internet safely and it’s crucial we include this in the curriculum as soon as possible.”
Minister of State for Digital and Culture 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.
“We are determined to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future and these extracurricular clubs will help identify and inspire future talent.”
Participants will be expected to commit to four hours a week, with flexibility around exams and busier study periods.
The aim is for students to start at the age of 14 and complete a four-year course, although older teenagers will be able to join at any point providing they meet the right criteria.
DCMS is seeking providers to deliver the programme, with bids closing next month and a pilot launching in September.
Last week MPs warned that confidence in the Government’s ability to protect Britain from high-level cyber-attacks is being undermined by skills shortages.
The Public Accounts Committee warned the threat of electronic data loss from cyber crime, espionage and accidental disclosure has risen considerably in recent years.
In 2015, GCHQ dealt with 200 national security incidents a month - double the number it was handling in the previous year.
Last year the Government launched the National Cyber Security Centre, underpinned by a £1.9bn investment to counter the threats.
A recent survey of 3,000 companies in the UK, US and Germany - conducted by Hiscox insurance - found that more than half (53 per cent) of businesses in these countries were ill-prepared to deal with cyber attacks.
The Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2017 assessed firms according to their readiness in four key areas – strategy, resourcing, technology and process. While most companies scored well for technology, fewer than a third (30 per cent) qualified as ‘expert’ in their overall cyber readiness.
Key findings of the Hiscox report were that UK firms are targeted less, but are slower to respond; more than half (57 per cent) of firms have experienced a cyber-attack in the past year, with larger companies targeted most often; nearly half (46 per cent) of the companies surveyed took more than two days to get back to business as usual, and the direct cost of an attack was frequently over £500,000.
The full Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2017 can be downloaded free.