Digital Cyber Academy

Digital Cyber Academy platform launched to attract next generation of defenders

Cyber-security training specialists Immersive Labs has launched a gamified cyber-skills platform open to all university-affiliated students, regardless of degree discipline, in order to help close the acknowledged cyber-skills gap through real-world training.

The Digital Cyber Academy (DCA) is a global online cyber-skills platform that streams real-world exercises on demand, through browser-based labs. Users are immersed in real challenges and must continually develop their skills to complete the exercises. Gamification is at the heart of every lab, meaning users are rewarded for each challenge they complete. The more they complete, the higher up the leaderboard they rise.

Based on real-world events and attacks, and learning to identify and deploy the appropriate correct technical response, the challenges start from the ground up and assume no prior knowledge of cyber security.

At the launch event in Canary Wharf, London, James Hadley,  CEO and founder of Immersive Labs, explained how the DCA concept evolved, arising out of Hadley’s previous work as an instructor at GCHQ’s Summer School for cyber security students. Hadley noticed that students from non-technical backgrounds – e.g. Arts and Humanities – could excel at cyber-security challenges and even surpass those students from a more technical, computer-degree course. This could be due to a broader approach to problem-solving than someone more used to a step-by-step process.

Hadley observed how, during his time at GCHQ’s Summer School, he recognised three core issues with traditional forms of instruction: that classroom learning is not conducive to acquiring practical cyber skills; that professional certifications were not necessarily a good indicator of aptitude; and that academic background has little bearing on who makes a good cyber-security professional.

Thus, the DCA is aimed at full or part-time students from any degree course, around the English-speaking world (currently UK, US, Australia and Singapore, with other countries planned for the future), who can sign up for the free training modules and progress at their own speed – the DCA even allows students to add additional time to countdown challenges, if it is necessary to complete them, so as not to discourage students in the early stages.

It is envisaged that the DCA’s global leaderboard can be used by employers and recruiters to fill the cyber-security skills gap. The DCA can also be used in-house by employers to upskill their existing employees – including potentially people not even currently working in the IT department.

The DCA platform is also intended to be agnostic of academic background, as employers can clearly see and focus on the applicant’s proven skills and achievements developed within the platform, rather than suffering from unconscious bias about whether or not a candidate has the ‘right’ degree. The same agnostic principle applies to recruitment diversity issues of race, sex and gender.

“We have acknowledged that academic background has little bearing on an individual’s ability to develop much sought-after cyber skills,” Hadley said. “The Digital Cyber Academy will enable millions of students to develop knowledge and hands-on skills, allowing them to be recognised as highly cyber skilled by potential employers. We’re looking forward to building a community of cyber security talent from around the world, on a single platform.”

Introducing the DCA at the launch event, Robert Hannigan, ex-director of GCHQ, said, “The DCA from Immersive Labs is the most exciting thing I've seen in this space: scalable, agile and appropriate to the way a new generation learns. It has the potential to disrupt and transform this crucial market.

“Identifying, developing and measuring practical cyber security skills is the great challenge for all companies today. Most traditional training methods are outdated and we need to think differently for a new generation of intuitive, competitive and diverse individuals.

“The criminal world has been good at recruiting new talent often found through online gaming. It’s time we take a similar crowd-sourced approach that is profoundly disruptive for the greater good.”

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