Digital defence school to bolster UK’s cyber ranks

Billy Bambrough
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Rejuvenation: The Bletchley Park buildings will be restored
Rejuvenation: The Bletchley Park buildings will be restored (Source: Getty)
letchley Park will again house the nation’s top talent as cyber security threats soar, writes Billy Bambrough

Over 70 years since Alan Turing and his Bletchley Park colleagues made history during World War II by figuring out the Nazis’ enigma machine, code breakers are set to return to the now famous site.

The National College of Cyber Security is scheduled to take on its first cohort of pre-university students in 2018 in specially adapted premises on the Bletchley Park site in order to plug a skills gap that is fast emerging as the biggest security threat to 21st-century Britain.

The move to rejuvenate the site comes amid warnings that companies and the government need to do more to prepare for so-called black swan events that can occur suddenly, with unexpectedly widespread ramifications. Alastair MacWilson, one of the driving forces behind the project, tells City A.M. a lot is being done but efforts are not always going in the right direction.

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“Black swans are the things that really hit organisations and the nature and professionalism of attacks is growing. Many companies are spending on defensive technology but they need the talent.”

Talent is exactly what the National College of Cyber Security is trying to cultivate. The free-to-attend school will take on the UK’s best and brightest cyber security prodigies amid growing demand from companies for expertise as firms battle against a rising tide of digital attacks.

Financial services firms are leading the recruitment drive for cyber security professionals, with the likes of BT also hoovering up as much of the talent as they can get; BT took on some 800 new hires in its cyber security practise this year alone.

The plans for the new college were announced by Qufaro last month – a new not-for-profit body. The college will offer a curriculum that balances cyber security tuition – approximately 40 per cent of classes. In the last few years companies across the UK and the rest of the world have been rocked by cyber security attacks that have compromised customer data and, in the most severe cases, resulted in people’s cash being stolen directly from their accounts.

Recent attacks at Tesco’s bank division and broadband provider TalkTalk sparked panic for investors and left executives scrambling to

reassure customers and shareholders. TalkTalk’s share price still hasn’t recovered the ground it lost in the aftermath of the hack last year and was put on the defensive again just last month after reports emerged that its routers had been compromised.

Mark Hughes, Qufaro non-executive director and chief executive of BT Security, warns we’re likely to see more of these attacks before we get a handle on them.

“We are improving but there are huge missing gaps. Once we get the basics right we will get to a stage where we lower the volume of attacks,” Hughes tells City A.M.

One of the problems that is proving challenging is the sheer number of attacks – some more threatening than others.

“We need to take out the level of noise and the minor attacks that we’re not preventing properly,” Hughes adds.

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According to a recent KPMG report 90 per cent of businesses were impacted by a cyber incident in the last year alone and it was recently revealed UK businesses had doubled down on cyber security, spending twice as much on protecting themselves in the face of growing threats.

The National College of Cyber Security is not just about defending companies against thieves, however. Much like the World War II code breakers, the students will be expected to be on the frontline of the cyber war with the UK’s international enemies. Hughes stresses the battle can not be won by governments or private enterprise alone.

“While there is a national cyber security agenda, the reality is that this is as much a national problem as it is an individual challenge,” he said.

MacWilson, who is chairman of Qufaro and the Institute of Information Security Professionals, added: “The cyber threat is relentless. Some of the threats – especially in the banking industry – mean we’re at risk of being swamped.”

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