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Online cyber security skills courses popular with girls

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The number of girls looking to learn new cyber security skills has surged this summer after courses went online for the first time.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) confirmed that the number of young people taking part in this year’s CyberFirst summer courses rose to a record-breaking 1,770 after they moved from the classroom to online.

And while the number of applications from boys saw a significant 31% rise, it was the increase in the number of girls applying which really caught the eye – rising by a massive 60% on 2019.

CyberFirst aims to ensure greater diversity in the next generation of cyber security specialists, and the summer courses offer 14 to 17-year-olds the chance to learn about digital forensics, ethical hacking, cryptography and cyber security challenges.

The new figures come one month after the NCSC pledged to take action to improve diversity and inclusion in the cyber security sector, as just 15% of the UK’s cyber security workforce are women and 14% of employees are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Chris Ensor, NCSC Deputy Director for Cyber Growth, said: “I’m delighted to see that more young people are exploring the exciting world of cyber security, and it’s especially encouraging to see such a level of interest from girls.

“Our online courses have provided new opportunities for teenagers of all backgrounds and we are committed to making cyber security more accessible for all.

“Ensuring a diverse talent pipeline is vital in keeping the UK the safest place to live and work online, and CyberFirst plays a key role in developing the next generation of cyber experts.”

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “It’s great to see so many young people taking part in the CyberFirst summer courses. These fantastic experiences give teenagers an insight into the exciting and varied careers on offer in cyber security.

”We want our cyber sector to go from strength to strength, so it is vital we inspire the next generation of diverse talent to protect people and businesses across the country.”

This year 670 more places were made available for the CyberFirst summer courses. The number of boys applying rose from 1,824 in 2019 to 2,398 this year, while for girls it went from 930 to 1,492 over the same period.

The annual initiative is offered at three levels: CyberFirst Defenders (for those aged 14–15), CyberFirst Futures (15–16), CyberFirst Advanced (16–17) – all aimed at helping pupils develop digital and problem-solving skills and introduce them to the cyber threat landscape.

This autumn, pupils interested in cyber security and computer science can look forward to a whole raft of opportunities from CyberFirst, as part of its ongoing commitment to inspire the next generation of cyber talent.

Other CyberFirst programmes include:

  • CyberFirst bursaries and apprenticeship schemes, which offer financial help for university-goers and paid summer work placements with over a hundred organisations to kickstart careers in cyber security. Applications are now live.
  • Empower Digital Cyber Week (9th-13th November), where students can watch and join online cyber sessions given by speakers in academia, industry and government.
  • The annual CyberFirst Girls competition, open to teams who want a fun and challenging opportunity to test their cyber skills in a bid to be crowned the UK’s top codebreakers. Registrations for the 2020-21 Girls Competition open on 30th November. More details about this year’s competition can be found on the NCSC’s website.
  • The government’s online cyber skills platform Cyber Discovery launched its latest intake in June and has already attracted over 13,500 students, with more than a third of registrations from female students. The programme, for 13-18 year olds, is a free and fun way for teens to develop cyber security skills. Students can register to join here: https://joincyberdiscovery.com/

NCSC roleplay exercise educates home workers on cyber risks

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Business owners are being urged to help keep their home working staff safe from cyber attacks by testing their defences in a roleplay exercise devised by the NCSC.

The ‘Home and Remote Working’ exercise is the latest addition to the National Cyber Security Centre’s Exercise in a Box toolkit, which helps small and medium sized businesses carry out drills in preparation for actual cyber attacks.

Launched last year, the toolkit sets a range of realistic scenarios which organisations could face, allowing them to practise and refine their response to each.

The latest exercise – the tenth in the series – is focused on home and remote working, reflecting the fact that for many organisations this remains a hugely important part of their business.

Sarah Lyons, NCSC Deputy Director for Economy and Society Engagement, said: “We know that businesses want to do all they can to keep themselves and their staff safe while home working continues, and using Exercise in a Box is an excellent way to do that.

“While cyber security can feel daunting, it doesn’t have to be, and the feedback we have had from our exercises is that they’re fun as well as informative.

“I would urge business leaders to treat Exercise in a Box in the same way they do their regular fire drills – doing so will help reduce the chances of falling victim to future cyber attacks.”

The exercise follows a range of products developed by the NCSC – which is a part of GCHQ – to support remote working during the coronavirus pandemic, including advice on working from home and securely setting up video conferencing.

The new ‘Home and Remote Working’ exercise is aimed at helping SMEs to reduce the risk of data compromise while employees are working remotely.

The exercise focuses on three key areas: how staff members can safely access networks, what services might be needed for secure employee collaboration, and what processes are in place to manage a cyber incident remotely.

Some of the most popular exercises include scenarios based around ransomware attacks, losing devices and a cyber attack simulator which safely imitates a threat actor targeting operations to test an organisation’s cyber resilience.

As part of the exercises, staff members are given prompts for discussion about the processes and technical knowledge needed to enhance their cyber security practices. At the end an evaluative summary is created, outlining next steps and pointing to NCSC guidance.

Exercise in a Box is an evolving tool and since it was launched the NCSC has continued to work on the platform. It has recently been given a new refreshed look to make it even more intuitive for users and soon micro-exercises – ‘bite-sized’ exercises that focus on a specific topic – will be added.

Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, said: “This new NCSC tool is a fantastic measure and will be welcomed universally as the threat of cyber attack continues to rise. In fact, our State of Email Security shows that 91% of UK organisations believe their organisation volume of web and email spoofing will increase in the coming year, while 59% of UK organisations have observed an increase in phishing attacks over the last year. It’s important that organisations prioritise cyber security, especially at a time where remote working has become the norm and connecting corporate devices via the home router becomes commonplace. This provides greater opportunity for malicious actors to infiltrate and obtain sensitive corporate data through unsecured home devices, so it’s important that businesses educate their staff on the tell tales signs of compromise and the benefits of good cyber hygiene practices.

“Regular cybersecurity awareness education is also key. Our State of Email Security report found 56% of organisations don’t provide awareness training on a frequent basis, leaving organisations incredibly vulnerable. This is supported by further research which found that enterprises that didn’t utilise Mimecast awareness training were 5x times more likely to click on malicious links as opposed to those companies that did. Often such training and education exercises may be viewed as burdensome or tedious, but it’s crucial that organisations work to change this perception and using tools such as these provided by the NCSC and others can significantly help. Our research has identified that awareness training, which is fun, interactive, and done in intervals can significantly help with retention, in addition to bolstering cyber defence in depth.”

You can sign up for Exercise in a Box or find out more about it on the NCSC’s website.

Coronavirus: Guaranteed funding needed for security training providers

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Calls have been made for the government to protect funding for independent training providers during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Apprentice trainers to the fire and security sector, Skills for Security, follows guidance released by the Department for Education (DfE) which states that policy “does not allow payment for services in advance of delivery”, which will mean that funding for apprenticeships cannot be made until the training has taken place.

Skills for Security, which operates under the British Security Industry Association, believes the omission of support from the DfE for apprenticeships and other skills training is a ‘complete turnaround’ after the Secretary of State guaranteed funding support for mainstream further education provision. The latest guidance excludes any independent training providers who deliver adult education, apprenticeships and other forms of training, although colleges will continue to receive guaranteed funding even though they are technically independent providers.

Skills for Security says there is concern that anyone providing this type of education is in danger of going out of business in the likelihood of a dramatic fall in attendance or the inability for apprentices to attend online training if their firm is providing key worker services and the demand on the apprentices’ time means there are unable to participate with the new online model.

Skills for Security are therefore calling for the Government to consider:

• All independent training provider contracts should be paid on profile whatever the current performance and levy apprenticeships paid based on the prior six months delivery

• If funding is maintained, providers will commit to not furlough staff relating to delivery thus saving the Treasury a significant amount of money.  

• Guarantee the next month’s funding to allow time to sort through the details and how the model might work.

David Scott, Managing Director, Skills for Security, said: “We are incredibly concerned that this omission of financial support will have a dramatic effect on our business as a leading provider of fire and security apprenticeships in our sector. Although we have had a 90% remote access participation for this week’s training, the following week at present is less than 50% and, based on the Government’s statement this will have a serious effect on our finances.

“If providers cease trading or furlough substantial numbers of staff then apprentices, learners and employers who want to continue training will lose their provider and many of these learners will be left with no support.  If we are unable to guarantee funding there is every chance the industry will lose capacity and increase levels of unemployed and a low possibility of upskilling those in the workplace.

“The lack of support from the DfE is not only going to affect our current financial and operational performance, but the long term effects may mean we will not be able to reach our full potential in ensuring the fire and security industry has appropriate number of apprentices trained. Before this impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) the security industry reported a skills shortage of 30,000 engineers needed to service customer requirements. Skills for Security significant expansion in its training resources and provision ensured we can meet the increase in demand for apprenticeship training nationally.”