Big Brother is…hoping to teach kids some cyber skills

Spooks from the government’s ‘listening post’ GCHQ are backing a new pilot programme to teach Scottish teenagers how to defend the nation from cyber attack.

The secretive spy agency, which specialises in code-breaking cryptography and intelligence, is funding a four-day CyberFirst Futures camp at Glasgow Caledonian University in July.

With a formal launch on May 23, the agency is working with Cyber Security Challenge UK and hopes to attract dozens of 16 and 17-year-olds from across the country to teach them cutting-edge computing skills, including how to protect their home computer from cyber attack.

It is part of a wider move within government to pitch cyber security as a career option for young people.

Martin Beaton, cyber security network integrator for Scotland, said: “The programme of events that we have planned for 2016 is a fun and engaging way for pupils to learn about the amazing careers that exist in cyber security.

“The industry already offers huge commercial possibilities that are only going to increase as more and more of our lives move online. It’s important that we act now to ensure that we have the talent pool needed to take advantage of these opportunities.”

Beaton said the camp itself is a great way to learn the highly technical tradecraft of ciphers, hashes, and vulnerability scanning and that with an average salary of £63,000 it should be a tempting career prospect for young people.

In addition to the camp GCHQ will host a cyber day for 100 girls at Edinburgh Napier University in June aimed at bridging the gender gap, which has seen female participation at just five per cent of the overall cyber security workforce.

Team of pupils will also be able to participate in the ‘Cyber Games Scotland’ – run by Cyber Security Challenge UK – where they will compete to try and decrypt coded messages. Skills Development Scotland supported a previous competition whereby pupils had to ‘sweep’ a hacker’s hotel room to find hidden passwords to access computer systems.

Claire Gillespie, Key Sector Manager for ICT and digital technology skills at Skills Development Scotland, added: “Engaging young people in cyber related subjects is vital if we are going to have the talent for the future.”

The CyberFirst Futures camp is a four-day residential course designed by GCHQ and delivered by The Smallpiece Trust and academia; the fully-funded course will take place at Glasgow Caledonian University from 26-29 July with 50 places available on a first come first served basis.

Napier University is a renowned centre for excellence for cybersecurity and its MSc is one of only a small number accredited by GCHQ.

Scotland is taking a global lead on cybersecurity skills with the introduction of a National Progression Award (NPA) in cybersecurity, which is currently available through schools, colleges and training providers.

School teams can sign up to play Cyber Games here.