Teenage girl hacker "kills" 3,000 Italians - a tale for Brexit Day

Brexit Day, 29th March, was the 46th Anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of Cape Matapan.  The battle only happened because Mavis Batey, then aged 19, spotted an Italian Enigma signal which did not contain the letter “L”. She set to work, broke into the “system” and found a short message “Today’s the day minus three”. The whole team set to. After a couple of days hard work they broke a long message with details of the Italian plans.

On Brexit day I attended the launch of STEM Plymouth . This repeats the “vision” of the Pilgrim Fathers who set sail in 1620 to invent the New World in which they wanted to live. The United States is not quite the society they had in mind. But they provided the break through that showed North American colonies were commercially viable without gold mines.

Plymouth is doing what others are talking about. The  University, the FE Colleges, schools, commercial training providers, the City Council, major employers (the RN, Babcock, Kawasaki, the Peninsular Medical School and Research complex etc.) and minor employers (via the LEP and Chamber of Commerce) are all working together to build the high tech, smart future they want.

They are not looking to import skills. They are looking to educate and train their own. They already have some of most notorious teenage hackers in the UK. They are therefore major supporters of the Cybersecurity Challenge, with the aim of identifying and enlisting undisciplined talent before it turns to the dark side. They also have the largest WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) Hub in the Country, providing 300 of the 1,000 stem ambassadors across Devon and Cornwall

More-over many of the ideas being explored in Smart City bids across the UK are already operational in Plymouth. Their Big Data service, Data Play , was launched in 2015. Analyses of the movement of mobile phones have already led to changes in bus routes to better fit the journeys the passengers are making. Meanwhile most of the buses are now wifi enabled and the new buses on order will have power supplies to enable teenagers to recharge their smart phones as they video-gossip on the move.

I mentally contrasted their plans to grow their own talent with those of so many of the members of Tech UK. The latter still appear to be seeking to import talent rather than help fix the problems with our education and training system. The third of Tech UK’s four priorities for the exit negotiations is “Set out a credible plan to ensure the UK remains open to the best international talent”.

But UK public sector digital training has imploded over the past five years because FE colleges have been unable to offer the internationally recognised qualifications (CISCO, Comptia, IBM, ISACA, ISC2, Microsoft) demanded by most Tech UK members.

At a recent meeting of the Digital Policy Alliance Skills Group with the Minister, the official responsible for standards policy within the Department for Education confirmed that the issues of handling globally recognised qualifications was not one that had been raised with her colleagues or the Minister before.

That says volumes about the lobbying over skills policy in recent years. It has been dominated by two groups:

  • those wanting funds to develop new standards and qualifications rather than use and maintain those that already exist and are recognised.
  • those wanting favourable entry (and tax treatments) for supposedly skilled immigrants.

The time has come to change that. Those meeting the Minister were therefore asked to provide further information setting out their concerns. On Monday the DPA Skills group will start the process of doing so. Those wishing to join in should contact the DPA membership secretary for details

We also need to recognise that, if we want the UK to be not only the safest place to go on-line but also the location of choice (in a post Brexit world) for global information security, risk management and “asset recovery” operations, we should focus on nurturing the most devious talent in the world:

“These have knelled your fall and ruin, but your ears were far away

English lassies rustling papers, through the sodden Bletchley day”

We need to attract the modern equivalent of “Dillies Fillies” .

The proportion of women working in GCHQ is much lower than that at Bletchley Park, and is top secret, but is rumoured to be over three times that working in private sector information security.

Some one is being very stupid – and it was not Dilly Knox.