The term cyber security is now familiar to most people. The scene of a hacker nonchalantly infiltrating some top secret government system with has become a cliché in films.
The cultural fascination with cyber is now increasingly matched in reality with a rising profile in the news and government. Despite this ubiquity, many people remain unclear on what ‘cyber security’ means. Indeed those working within the industry sometimes express dissatisfaction with the ambiguity of the term.
Broadly though, cyber security refers to the security of the internet, wider telecommunications networks and computer systems. For example, where a website’s safeguards have been purposely attacked to facilitate the theft of data related to that company’s products, customers, business plans etc., the cyber security of that company has been compromised.
As such the work of cyber security includes ensuring that a company has the necessary safeguards in place to protect the integrity of its internet operations, wider telecommunications networks and computer systems. This typically refers to the company’s technical safeguards such as firewalls and anti-virus software, but also includes making sure the right organizational and behavioural measures are in place. For example, making sure that companies have policies in place so that their employees’ user behaviour (using complex passwords, using caution when browsing the web etc.) supports their cyber security.
The costs involved for business in the UK from so-called cyber crime have been estimated at £27 billion. As the amount of business conducted through the internet, or at least dependent on some internet process appears set to rise. The number of people hoping to exploit these systems for criminal gain is also expected to rise. As a result, cyber security skills appear set to grow in value.
The rising demand for cyber security expertise in the UK presents an opportunity for graduates to build a career in an emerging field. The lack of technical expertise is particularly marked, with a number of recent government initiatives. Most recently, on Thursday 18 October, Foreign Secretary, William Hague announced the launch of new apprenticeships with GCHQ, the Government’s communications intelligence agency. In 2011 the government announced the new National Cyber Security Strategy. The strategy has four key objectives. The last of these is “building the UK’s cross-cutting knowledge, skills and capability to underpin all cyber security objectives”. The message from government and industry is clear: there are opportunities for people with required skills in cyber security.
The majority of these opportunities are currently for people with technical skills. Typically, people working in this area have an academic background in computer science. However, if you don’t have this academic background but have a technical interest, don’t be put off! Government and industry are keen to encourage those with relevant skills. For example, Cyber Security Challenge UK is a government and industry initiative open to people from any background. The Challenge involves a series of tasks and competitions designed to identify people with cyber security skills with prizes including paid internships and bursaries for relevant university courses. Even if you do not want to participate in the Cyber Security Challenge their website provides a useful resource for understanding what a career in cyber security could look like and how to get involved.
Whether or not you feel a career in cyber security is for you, I would certainly recommend gaining a basic understanding. As an individual it is useful to helping to keep your online identity, social networks, personal and financial details safe. Whatever career you choose, it will almost certainly involve the internet and so an appropriate level of cyber security knowledge will be useful. For more information, the government’s Get Safe Online website provides a good starting point.
Joseph Taylor is a Programme Executive at Intellect, the company provide the highest quality of service and intelligence to members in the ICT industry, helping them to make the right business decisions to deliver commercial solutions and achieve growth and profitability.