The recent government proposals to introduce cyber skills training into the classroom for pupils at the age of 11 should be welcomed not only as an important initiative to drive awareness of online threats, but a vital next step in reinforcing Britain’s national security defences.
For too long this vital skillset, which should accompany ICT skills training, has been badly neglected. This has left a generation comfortable with computer use, but unable to make the link between online actions and their impact, and thereby weak on recognising and tackling the threats that can accompany it.
The digitisation of the UK economy has opened up huge opportunities for this new, technology-savvy generation, in terms of jobs and the ability to set up and grow businesses online.
However, this new environment has also brought with it a number of personal security risks which have all too often been overlooked. In response to this threat, the government launched a series of online safety campaigns to assist raising awareness of cyber fraud, particularly around online transactions and identity theft.
Part of the campaign focuses on the need for people to take precautions, such as selecting safe passwords, ensuring updates on antivirus software, are kept in check and that personal information is not shared with third parties. Such initiatives, whilst undoubtedly urgent and necessary, also demonstrate the fundamental lack of cyber skills awareness which is currently putting many British citizens at risk.
It is somewhat ironic that a country like Britain, home to MI5, GCHQ and Bletchley Park Trust, where during World War II British men and women intercepted radio signals and broke the German secret codes, now finds itself lacking cyber skills awareness on the national curriculum.
>See also: The 2014 cyber security roadmap
But the heritage and skills intrinsically linked to these institutions will provide the next generation with the opportunity to develop and learn new skills, with sites like Bletchley providing a Cyber Security Exhibition and Computer Learning Zone.
Those in doubt of the value this will bring to UK PLC should carefully consider the very real economic benefits a cyber-savvy population can deliver. The Information Security Breaches Survey 2014, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and carried out by PwC, found that for small businesses the worst security breaches cost between £65,000 and £115,000 on average.
For large organisations, this was between £600,000 and £1.15 million. If you were the owner of that business, would you want your staff members to be up to speed on security threats or not? So rather than landing employers with huge bills for training new employees in how to protect themselves and the company from outsider threats, it is much simpler, cheaper and effective to ensure these skills are obtained early on in schools across the country.
With global cyber criminals looking for new ways to target public and private sector organisations as well as individuals in our country, sitting back and doing nothing will only leave us vulnerable to attack. Britain has all the necessary ingredients and the heritage to swiftly build up its cyber skillset in a very short space of time. Doing so will safeguard the economy and enable employees to operate safely and securely in a connected world whilst protecting themselves from outsider threats.
By combining a dedicated curriculum for cyber skills training along with partnerships with heritage sites like Bletchley Park, schools, colleges and universities will be able to offer their students a truly integrated education on cybersecurity threats. So as the government shifts into gear and these new initiatives in the classroom and partnerships with security heritage sites become established, Britain will at last be returned to its former glory as a centre of security skills expertise.
Sourced from Graeme Stewart, director of public sector strategy and relations, UK&I, McAfee