Cybersecurity is now an aspect of our daily lives that we cannot escape. As people around the world continue to operate, interact and engage online; as businesses, organisations and governments increasingly rely on technology, security has become a staple requirement to ensure safety for consumers and citizens.
In Scotland, the cybersecurity sector is flourishing, with a host of dynamic young companies leading the charge to establish the nation as a hub of cyber innovation. To ensure the ongoing success of the cybersecurity sector in Scotland, and indeed, the technology sector as a whole, a steady flow of talent must be maintained throughout the country’s academic institutions.
This talent cultivation starts at a grassroots level, from primary school through to secondary and beyond into higher education. Glancing ahead, there are significant challenges for the cybersecurity sector in regards to talent. The uptake of computing science subjects in high schools is a point of growing concern for the industry while gender deficits within STEM-related subjects as a whole are also an area in need of attention.
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Ahead of the 2019 Scottish Cyber Awards, DIGIT caught up with individuals leading a number of cyber education schemes – schemes which have proven so successful that they are in contention for the Best Cyber Education Programme award at the ceremony this month.
NCSC-certified Undergraduate and GCHQ-certified Postgraduate Programme in Cybersecurity
Speaking to DIGIT, Professor Buchanan says “education is our heartbeat and is one of the best investments that any nation can make” – and both these programmes are helping to develop the next generation of cyber professionals.
Professor Bill Buchanan OBE, one of Scotland’s foremost academics in cybersecurity and cryptography, is up for an award in this category through Napier University’s NCSC-certified undergraduate Programme in Cybersecurity and the GCHQ-certified postgraduate programme.
He says: “Our education base has grown over the past few years in cybersecurity, and have especially linked strongly with the requirements of industry and to ensure we provide both an academic base while providing graduates with hands-on skills.
“It has been an exciting time, too, for us in regards to the development of both our undergraduate and postgraduate courses in cybersecurity.”
Edinburgh Napier University was one of the first universities to achieve full GCHQ accreditation for its MSc course, and Buchanan says this has allowed the course to go from “strength-to-strength” in recent years. Similarly, last year it was the only university in the UK to gain full NCSC accreditation for its undergraduate course in cybersecurity.
To achieve this, the course had to adhere to strict academic standards defined by the NCSC, including the increased requirement for software engineering, software coding and formal methods.
A key factor in the success of both the undergraduate and postgraduate courses has been flexibility, Buchanan insists.
“An important element of this has been the creation of virtualised environments, which support both campus-based and remote students,” he says. “Our focus is always to provide the same learning environment for all of our students, and support different ways of study.”
Napier now has graduates in “every part of the world”, Buchanan says. Many of whom are now leaders within the cybersecurity field.
“Education and knowledge exchange isn’t just about taught courses,” he notes. “We have listened as much as we have spoken, and had a keen ear on where our graduates find jobs and the skills they require.
“We have also tried to help bring on our next generation, who will be so important in fixing many of the problems that we have created.”
Discover Cyber Skills
Launched in 2017, Discover Cyber is a scheme led by Skills Development Scotland, which helps engage young people with cybersecurity and STEM subjects and offer them routes into the sector.
The programme aims to boost the appeal of cybersecurity careers and raise awareness of learning pathways to people primarily in S1, S2 and S3. A strong focus has been placed on raising awareness among employers of the diversity of career pathways into cyber, such as apprenticeships and college provision.
The scheme has been awarded multi-year funding by the UK’s National Cyber Security Strategy Programme.
“The Discover Cyber Skills initiative is an informative and engaging way for young people to learn about cybersecurity tools and principles,” says Debbie McCutcheon, digital skills project manager at Skills Development Scotland. “It’s designed to get the message across about the importance of online security for personal safety reasons as well as raising awareness of the many and varied career opportunities available within cyber.”
Participants are able to crack password encryptions through the programme, as well as test their metal at hacking a bank and defending a hospital from a cyber attack. In fact, the How to Rob A Bank game is the most popular activity with nearly 19,000 players having taken part so far.
Initially, a goal was set to reach 4,000 pupils in Scotland over the course of four years. However, in the two years since its launch, the Discover Cyber programme has engaged with 40,000 pupils. Face-to-face educational events have proven to be a major success so far, with pupils and teachers both hailing the scheme as a prime opportunity to engage with cyber subjects.
The initiative’s Live Sessions have also drawn an impressive 32,628 participants.
“Both pupils and teachers have been giving rave reviews when engaging with the programme,” McCutcheon says. “Pupils find the experience great fun, as well as challenging, but most importantly of all their awareness of careers in the cyber space has really been enhanced.
“The level of engagement for our live lessons has been phenomenal. Pupils and teachers are able to compete against other schools which makes it even more fun and competitive for everyone involved. When there’s a challenge with school timetables, teachers also have the opportunity to run the lesson in class at a time that suits.”