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Digital Hacking Courses for UK teenagers

If your business is in Information and Communication, then you are part of the R&D sector that made the highest proportion of claims last year and received the greatest percentage of the R&D tax relief total. A growing part of your industry is cyber security and one part of the government’s CyberFirst initiative lies in educating young teens through a new Cyber Discovery programme.

Who is behind Cyber Discovery?

The Cyber Discovery programme is funded through the £1.9bn National Cyber Security Strategy and delivered by a collaboration of BT, Cyber Security Challenge UK, the SANS Institute and FutureLearn for the government.

The programme is spearheaded by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Karen Bradley. As reported in Ebuyer.com, she said: “This Government is committed to improving the skills of the next generation and encouraging the best young minds into cyber security. Cyber Discovery will help inspire the digital talent of tomorrow and give thousands of young people the opportunity to develop cutting-edge cyber security skills and fast-track future careers. This important programme is part of our £1.9 billion investment to protect from online threats and make Britain the safest place to be online.”

Who is it for?

This pilot Cyber Discovery programme is for children aged between 14 and 18 old (years 10-13) in England that are interested in developing computer hacking skills. It is free to the users and children do not need previous knowledge of cyber security to sign up.

Really? We’re teaching them to hack?

Isn’t that a bad thing, like digital breaking and entering?

Well, as it turns out, hacking did not always have the negative connotations often attached to it in the press. The Oxford Living Dictionary gives two definitions: “A person who uses computers to gain unauthorized access to data.” Also “Informal: An enthusiastic and skilful computer programmer or user.”

In the world of tech, a hacker was originally seen more as someone who could test and find flaws in secure systems – either for work or as a niche hobby; extreme problem solving to the rest of us. A cracker was someone who crossed over into the criminal and used their ability to hijack data or alter and/or steal information for money.

In the context of Cyber Discovery, the focus is on online security. As it is described on their website:

“In the not-too-distant future, you will be the people protecting the UK from cyber attacks and ensuring our online world is a safe place to live and work. It is your generation that will be cracking codes, creating new software tools and finding security flaws that will help protect our digital lives. We’re looking for the next generation of security experts that can stay one step ahead of cyber criminals. Could that be you?

How does the course work?

The course is entirely online and designed to be completed outside of school hours. There are four parts to it:

Cyberstart assess: an open invitation to be assessed which has been taken up by over 20,000 pupils since it launched in November 2017. No limit was set for the number of initial applicants to this level.

Cyberstart Game: If you make it through the first assessment level, you can then access “hundreds of hours of real world cyber security challenges”. No statistics are yet available to tell us how many of the initial 20,000 applicants moved forward onto stage two.

Cyberstart Essentials: Those that prove themselves in the second level will be invited to over 100 hours of learning; with guides, quizzes and video tutorials.

Cyberstart Elite: The best students can then access additional training and mentoring.

Cyber Discovery Curriculum

This seems to be a comprehensive introduction to the essentials you need to work in cyber security. It includes:

Web attacks: including cross-site scripting and SQL injection as ways to secure a website.

  • Forensics: Data recovery from files, its analysis and how to present their findings.
  • Linux: As the main operating system use by online security, run programs, list files and change directories are crucial commands they learn.
  • Cryptography: Defining encoding and encryption. Writing secure code and how to hide information (steganography).
  • Programming: Different programming languages, focus on Python. Defining functions and using variables.
  • Binary Attacks: The basics of a complex area; ELF files, overflows and definition of binary files.

It sounds like the kind of course we might all need to take in the not-too-distant future.

Why is this important right now?

Cyber security experts are taking the future skill gap in their industry very seriously. Educating younger generations now is part of a wider government strategy to keep the UK’s online security ahead of the constantly evolving digital crime.

As reported in Ebuyer the CEO of BT Security, Mark Hughes, said: “Organised crime has moved online while countries across the globe are also battling with hacktivism and cyber espionage. The cyber-crime industry is getting bigger, stronger and more sophisticated in its techniques of attack. So it’s vital that we start engaging and encouraging young people in developing their cyber skills now, to further bolster the UK’s defences against the escalating level of the threat.”

Whether you’re involved in developing cyber security education, or are already a specialist working in the field, make sure you are receiving all the R&D tax relief you are entitled to.

 

Jamie Smith

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