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The Higher Education Academy gives universities £500,000 to develop cyber security specialists

The Department for Culture, Media and Sports has partnered with the Higher Education Academy to provide universities with funding and support to train cyber security specialists

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) has given universities across the UK a total of £500,000 to fund initiatives that will create specialists in cyber security.

The HEA has been working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) to distribute funds across higher education facilities in the UK to ensure enough students are leaving university with the skills needed to prevent the UK from falling foul of cyber attacks.

The funds are part of the UK government’s National Cyber Security Programme, a five-year plan which will see £860m sunk into promoting cyber security and ensuring the UK is suitably protected from cyber threats, at the same time as addressing the UK’s shortage of cyber security skills.

Ed Vaizey, digital economy minister, said: “Protecting the UK in cyber space is a top priority, which is why government recently announced £1.9bn funding for cyber security and an ambitious skills programme. The grants will enable universities to develop high-quality, innovative teaching and learning, and ensure we have skilled people to address future cyber security challenges.”

The lack of people with cyber security skills in the UK is a long standing issue, with many organisations putting initiatives in place to train young people to meet the growing demand for cyber security specialists.

Many have tried to address this growing need by hiring talent from outside of the UK, but recent changes to immigration have meant it is harder to find skilled cyber specialists from outside of the EU.

Leeds Beckett University and the University of Birmingham are among those that have received the HEA grant to boost the number of students with cyber security skills.

These higher education facilities will use their £80,000 grant to fund researchers developing cyber security software designed to teach students to tackle cyber security challenges.

The project will be led by Z. Cliffe Schreuders at Leeds Beckett University and Tom Chothia at the University of Birmingham. Researchers will work with student interns to develop a randomised capture the flag (CTF) hacking challenge.

Schreuders explained the challenges will allow students to work through random simulations of compromised security networks and “hack” them until they are able to solve the problem and earn themselves marks for their modules.

This is similar to other hackathons such as the Cyber Security Challenge, which sees participants form groups to hack simulated IT systems and undo the work of fictional cyber criminals.

“The uniqueness of our approach is that our hacking challenges will be randomised. Every student (or competitor) gets a unique set of challenges in a unique virtual machine,” said Schreuder.

Leeds Beckett University and the University of Birmingham will work with others to ensure the challenge software suits the needs of different cyber security courses available through the universities involved.

Imperial College London, Liverpool John Moores University, University of Abertay Dundee and MWR InfoSecurity are among the industry partners that will help develop the challenge framework.

“Learning hacking techniques is part of the security curriculum at Leeds Beckett University. These skills are used by security professionals to audit the security of computers and allow students to better understand what they are defending against and responding to,” said Schreuders.

“We aim to have our students put theory into practice in laboratory environments. CTF is a great way of further engaging students, and it is a framework that has the potential to have an impact on the way security training is designed and delivered – at Leeds Beckett and elsewhere.”

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