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Cyber security skills courses go online during pandemic

The government is turning to online learning to find the next generation of cyber security talent

The UK’s schools may still be closed, but thousands of young people will get the chance to join virtual cyber security classes over the next few months, as the government announces plans to keep the flow of new tech talent open during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

While the importance of technology skills education has taken something of a backseat during the coronavirus crisis, the need to continue to develop and nurture the next generation of skilled professionals is no less acute – given the severe impact of the pandemic on the cyber security sector, it is needed more than ever.

“This new initiative will give teenagers something fun and educational to do from home and provide them with a glimpse into the life of a cyber security professional,” said digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman.

“We have a world-leading cyber sector which plays a crucial role protecting the country and our digital economy, so it is absolutely vital we continue to inspire the next generation of tech talent to help maintain the UK’s strong position.”

Backed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC’s) CyberFirst scheme, and the SANS Institute, the Cyber Discovery programme is open to 13 to 18 year olds, and takes the form of an interactive, multi-level game called CyberStart.

As they progress through the games, teens will tackle challenges across four key areas relating to security. In the first stage, participants will learn how to tackle cyber criminal gangs, gathering information on them, cracking codes and analysing and dissecting their digital trails. They will then move onto instruction in Python programming code to write their own programmes, and in the third stage, will learn about the concepts and ideas security professionals apply when dealing with a cyber attack. The final stage will put all they have learned to the test.

Students currently enrolled in the 2019-2020 Cyber Discovery intake already have access to this content, which was set to expire today, 1 May, but their access will be extended.

Mark Martin, computer science teacher, educational technology advocate and founder of UK Black Tech, said: “This is a great initiative to encourage young people to consider future careers in cyber security and see that they can have a tech job keeping people safe online.

“The virtual cyber school will help students learn valuable skills needed to work in the industry in a fun and entertaining way. I encourage teachers to share these programmes with their students as a productive activity to do in their spare time from home,” he said.

At the same time, the NCSC’s other CyberFirst summer school courses, Defenders, for 14-15 year olds; Futures, for 15-16 year olds; and Advanced, for 16-17 year olds, will also be running as an online-only programme in 2020, with 1,000 places being made available.

NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin said: “Technology is helping us all cope with the coronavirus crisis and is playing an essential role in keeping our businesses moving and our society connected.

“It has never been more important for our young people to keep engaged and learn how to protect our digital world – and I’m delighted to see our instructor-led CyberFirst summer courses made available online.”

Not to be outdone, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Cyber Security Challenge UK have also announced their CyberLand online education platform will be made available for free over the next few months.

Set in a virtual city, CyberLand is a series of gamified modules, comprising 16 interactive exercises that teach the fundamentals of cyber security. It includes module on the Computer Misuse Act of 1990, which educates the target audience on the law as it relates to cyber with the aim of steering young people away from cyber crime towards more positive pathways into the legitimate technology industry.

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