Let’s inspire pupils to consider lucrative jobs in cyber security

 

STORIES about cyber security heists break almost every day. It is estimated around £1.4 trillion is lost annually to criminal gangs that find it far more convenient to steal money remotely than by robbing banks the old-fashioned way. Cyber crime is more lucrative than the global drugs trade, and this explains why cyber security specialists are among the highest- prized professionals worldwide.

While we could be forgiven for thinking cyber crime is mainly focused on business, the reality is that the number of connected devices, including everything in the automated home, brings families and possessions into the range of criminals. Around 10 billion individual devices are capable of being attacked and owned by criminals.

Children are growing up in a reality where they can interact with more people in one evening than we, as parents, could manage over our entire childhood. How can we possibly even begin to protect them? Perhaps we could teach them to protect themselves and their parents and grandparents. Even better, what if they could use this knowledge to earn a living?

What if your child came home and said to you that their dream job was to become a hacker? Would you immediately think that this was a bad thing? This was a concern when the Scottish Qualifications Authority first created a National Progression Award (NPA) in Cyber Security. Teaching “ethical hacking” was a world first and has become one of the most popular NPAs developed. Ethical hackers locate weaknesses and vulnerabilities of computer and IT systems by duplicating the intent of malicious hackers.

The UK Government is investing billions in this area and central to its strategy is developing home-grown talent to protect our way of life. For example, GCHQ’s CyberFirst programme includes residential courses, with bursaries available for those on STEM degree courses planning to follow a cyber security career.

More than 40,000 people already work in the UK’s information security industry and demand for cyber skills continues to grow across all businesses. This situation is unlikely to change, with a predicted worldwide shortage of 1.5 million information security professionals by 2020.

Cyber skills are highly transferable, and with exports of UK cyber products and services growing by over 15 per cent per year there are many opportunities to work overseas. This is a career that can match or surpass wages in more traditional areas such as medicine, law and accountancy with annual salaries for experienced professionals exceeding £100,000.

The first country to crack the skills shortage problem will reap huge benefits through inward investments and exporting of services and technology. There are more than 20 active projects aimed at promoting cyber security across Scotland right now, funded by UK Government in partnership with the Scottish Government. A fantastic example is the annual Cyber Christmas Lecture tour, which aims to show pupils how exciting a career in cyber security can be. A special “cyber bus” will shortly travel around schools across Scotland with the intention of raising awareness of the sector’s career potential, and there will be a cyber security competition aimed at encouraging engagement with our possible future cyber security workforce.

Demonstrating the importance industry attaches to education, the top award at the Cyber Security National awards in November went to Toni Scullion, a schoolteacher at St Kentigern’s Academy in West Lothian. She was recognised for her efforts to promote the cyber security sector and its career potential to girls. With less than 10 per cent of females in the workforce, redressing this imbalance is vital for Scotland’s cyber future.

Your child can study a STEM subject and become a cyber security professional but only if they know what it is, and for that we need parental influence. It could well be the most fulfilling and lucrative decision they ever make.

Martin Beaton
Cyber Security Cluster Co-ordinator for Scotland, ScotlandIS

As Seen in The National