UK Wants to Train Kids to Become "Cyber Jedi"

An ambitious national effort mirrors programs in the US to recruit the next generation of cyber warriors.

By: Shane Harris

The United Kingdom is embarking on a national program to train the next generation of cyber warriors to protect the country's infrastructure. 

From the Guardian:

"The UK is now so short of experts in cybersecurity, they could soon command footballers' salaries... Ministers support plans for a national competition for schools in the hope of encouraging teenagers, especially girls, to become so-called "cyber Jedi"--defending firms, banks and government departments from an ever increasing number of online attacks." 

Two thousand schools will participate in a pilot project beginning in September, as part of Cyber Security Challenge UK, the Guardian reports. Then, the program would roll out across England and Wales.

Stephanie Daman, the group's director, tells the newspaper, "Kids need to know there is a real career in this, because they have no concept at the moment. And we need to spark their interest. It's a profession like law or accountancy, with well-paid salaries.

"A lot of companies are desperate to hire people for the roles in cybersecurity, but they have not been able to find the number of qualified recruits. There is a huge gap in terms of the number of properly qualified people in this area, and we need to tap into talent we know is out there." 

In a sign of how seriously the government takes that shortfall, Michael Gove, the UK education secretary, recently "ripped up" school IT curriculum "in part because it does not have a cybersecurity element," according to the Guardian

There's a similar and growing effort on this side of the pond to train the next generation of "cyber ninjas," as some involved in the effort like to call them. High schools have teamed up with technology advocacy groups to recruit more young students into college computer science programs, with an eye towards working in the cyber security industry. Rhode Island congressman Jim Langevin, for instance, has organized high-school hacker competitions in his state.  

In December, the SANS Institute, which trains military and intelligence personnel in the cyber arts, sponsored an international cyber competition at the Washington Hilton. A group of high schoolers were selected to compete against the world's best hackers in the early rounds. 

The National Security Agency also sponsors a nation-wide contest in which teams from the military service academies face off against some of the NSA's best cyber warriors. Cadets at the Air Force Academy, which now has a separate educational track for cyber warfare, recently took first place. 

As in the UK, there aren't enough people in the workforce right now with the high-level of skill that the US government demands, hence many of these efforts to go down to the roots of the education system. But you're going to see this demand coming more from the private sector, as financial services companies, utilities, media organizations and others increasingly find themselves the targets of malicious hackers and are virtually powerless to do anything about it. They're not going to wait around for the government to protect them. They'll hire their own cyber armies to do that job.