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Do British Universities have what it takes to train the next generation of cyber security professionals?

by wrich

By Aare Reintam, Chief Operating Officer at CybExer Technologies

Despite a positive (and significant) decrease from over 4 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs in 2019, there is still a staggering 3.12 million global shortage of workers with cybersecurity skills and I am confident that British Universities are rising to the challenge in order to attract more students to cybersecurity courses, by exploring programmes that include practical cyberattack simulation exercises, to heighten interest and make graduates more battle-ready for employers. 

Pandemic increases pressure on firms to fill cyber security vacancies

As technology continues to move at an increasingly fast pace, jobs are being created in emerging sectors that didn’t exist a decade ago. Some of the most sought-after positions to fill are roles in, data analytics, healthcare technology and cybersecurity, but there is much more in IT. However, the impact of the pandemic on the cyber security industry has further heightened the demand for highly skilled talent in this field. 

As a result of businesses moving to the remote operating model, the risk landscape has shifted dramatically to a more exposed environment and a cyber-attacks are now in full swing, with ransomware attacks becoming devastating to many businesses. Cybersecurity professionals are now challenged with keeping up with the latest and greatest threats and teams are under more pressure than ever before.

With many out of a job since the pandemic hit, people are also becoming more open to reskill. Open source software firm Red Hat recently reported that 1 in 20 adults across Europe started learning to code since the first lockdown. 

This highlights the role for education providers to play in supporting a new generation of tech talent. However, it’s a cross-industry issue and it’s likely we’ll see more education providers partnering with other firms in the industry if they’re to help make meaningful change.

Universities ready to plug the cybersecurity skills gap

Part of the problem with finding qualified talent is that cyber security tactics are constantly changing, and hackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Not only that, but rapid technological advances mean cyber professionals must stay vigilant if they want to stay current. Academia must be up to those challenges.

The leaders in the education space are beginning to think differently in order to generate genuine change and ensure that they are offering the right training to meet the growing requirements of the cyber security industry. Universities are starting to understand the importance of hands-on learning by adopting tools that allow students to experience first-hand what a cyber-attack looks like and respond to it in real time. 

The IoC is united in its commitment to closing the digital skills gap through the delivery of employer-led digital skills education. They believe the work of universities is key to making the next generation of professionals ready to confront the cybersecurity challenges. Indeed, employers regard university sourced computer sciences skills so highly that just 13% of graduates remain unemployed six months after completing their studies. Some of Europe’s leading universities have begun taking things one step further.

NATO cyberattack simulation’s journey to cybersecurity training programme

The value of simulation training exercises has been formally recognised by defence bodies like NATO for some time. Today some of the NATO officials behind the original “war game” events have further developed the orchestration and visualisation software for commercial use. 

Known as Cyber Ranges, simulated networks have been used extensively by students taking part in international hacking competitions, live-fire exercises and Capture-The-Flag events. Students can take part in a full-scale cyber emergency in a safe, controlled environment.  They also learn to locate and exploit vulnerabilities in different network environments. Exercises test problem solving, lateral thinking, cooperation and information sharing skills helping to develop and train essential skills for identifying, monitoring and repelling cyber-attacks.

Cyber ranges are drawing interest from universities all over the world who want to attract students with technology courses with the right mix of academic knowledge and practical know-how that will enable them to hit the ground running when they enter the workplace.

In summary, the problem of cybercrime and cyber-attacks is becoming increasingly serious, yet influential commentators view it as much a human one as a technical one. Despite significant investment, nation states and businesses are still desperately short of skilled professionals capable of helping them redress the balance. Training the next generation of cybersecurity experts begins with how the discipline is taught at schools and universities. Cyber Range technology promises to be a valuable tool for any academic institution that wants to provide IT and cybersecurity education of the highest quality.

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