To catch a criminal, you’ve got to think like a criminal

ethicalTo celebrate the return of this year’s Christmas Cyber Lectures, ethical hacking student Jack Wilson shares how he became inspired by cyber security, why he thinks like one of the literary world’s most famous detectives, and how he finds studying for a career in one of Scotland’s fastest growing digital sectors.

It might be a strange thing to say: “You’ve got to think like a criminal to know how to catch a criminal.” But as an ethical hacking student in my final year, this is one of the biggest lessons I have learned during my time at Abertay University in Dundee. Much like Sherlock Holmes, we are encouraged from the beginning to consider the crime from the criminal’s point of view until tracking down the culprit and reversing the damage they have caused becomes “elementary”.

Three years ago, on the much-anticipated countdown to the festive season, the Christmas Cyber Lectures arrived in my hometown of Dundee. Not only did these lectures intend to educate us on how to stay safe when online, but they also aimed to open our eyes to the genuine possibility of an exciting, fast-paced career within the sector. It worked. I was hooked.

These lectures were not your average, dull Powerpoint presentations. Dynamic, interactive and fun-packed, they really caught my teenage attention. They also helped me to understand that when working in the cyber security industry you’re not chained to a computer behind closed doors. Instead, you work with a team of problem solvers to tackle the “whodunnit” mysteries of our time – cyber crimes.

I’ll admit that at this time, I didn’t really know too much about cyber security, though it was becoming increasingly difficult to miss stories of major companies like TalkTalk suffering crippling security breaches. Between the Christmas Cyber Lectures and the ever frequent ‘data breach’ related headlines, my interest in cyber security was well and truly piqued.

As a result, that dreaded question of ‘what should I study at university?’ wasn’t too difficult for me. With my interest in the cyber security sector developing, a course in ethical hacking felt like the best fit. Better yet, Abertay University was renowned for its prestige in teaching ethical hacking and other cyber security related subjects. It was perfect!

Now in my fourth year, there isn’t anything I would say I regret about my course. We learn to think like a criminal so that we know how to catch them. The course is very hands-on and practical, and covers a vast and interesting range of key topics such as web app hacking, infrastructure hacking, reverse engineering, programming, and networking, to name a few.

As well as enjoying the practical aspects of an ethical hacking degree, our course is close-knit, with lecturers, undergrads and graduates attending events together as part of an ‘ethical hacking society’. Industry-led conferences help us learn and keep us informed on key developments and trends, something that’s important as an online ‘cyber crime fighter’.

The digital skills crisis that we find ourselves in has left a gaping hole in the cyber security industry. The sector is suffering from a chronic shortage of skilled professionals and as a result, it is crying out for people to consider a career in the sector. If you think you have what it takes to hack ethically for a living – or to be the online answer to Sherlock Holmes – then don’t be afraid to find out more and to ask questions. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know something and don’t pretend to know something you don’t. Just try it.

Looking down the line to my career, I am excited by what I see. I have a drive to work in information security, doing either offensive or defensive security. I am inspired by the prospect of working in a job that allows me to be part of the solution. I want to be able to help companies keep their data and their customers’ data safe and secure. And most importantly, fighting cyber crime for a living is my passion, just like it was Holmes’s.