Student and Graduate Publishing

CTRL+ALT+DEL the stereotypes surrounding a career in cybersecurity

Monday, 10 December 2018 13:37

Have you ever considered a career in cybersecurity? If the answer is yes, you’d be joining a huge global network of people trying to make our digital lives more secure. If you haven’t ever considered cybersecurity as a career, why not find out more?

According to a report, British teenagers are among the world’s most extreme internet users, spending at least 6 hours a day scrolling through social media platforms, chatting to friends, and browsing websites. In 2017 alone, an average of 15,220,700 texts, 456,000 tweets and 527,760 photos on Snapchat were posted/sent in every single minute of every single day. That’s some pretty heavy-duty internet usage across the globe, admittedly not just from teenagers.

Unfortunately, all this activity massively increases the risk of cyber criminals being able to attack us – the more we send and share with one another online, the more opportunity hackers have to steal our data and sell it for their own profit. Which is why, behind the scenes, we need an army of cyber defenders to thwart those hackers before they can get their grimy hands on our personal information.

This is where you come in!

Cybersecurity is a fascinating profession; one that will put you at the heart of the technology which powers our modern world. Whether you choose to reconstruct how online crimes were perpetrated, or help some of the world’s biggest organisations defend themselves from attack, there are a considerable number of roles on offer. Some of the most amazing security professionals I know come from really diverse backgrounds, including a brilliant malware reverse engineer who was a chef in a prior career! It’s all about problem solving, persistence and having a passion to learn more.

But let’s get the record straight – cybersecurity is not just for ‘geeks,’ boys or computer science students. You don’t need skills in coding or maths to get started. You could be a French student with a passion for problem solving, or a budding writer brimming with creativity – the critical skills that all good cybersecurity professionals share are transferable and not just borne from studying the subjects you might necessarily associate with computing.

If you look beyond the stereotypes, you open yourself up to a new, exciting career path full of challenges and opportunities to learn.

Time for a system reboot

I‘m not surprised if you answered ‘no’ to my question ‘have you ever considered a career in cybersecurity?’. Once upon a time, I was a teenager with idle hands, and a passion for unpicking how technology works. I spent my teenage years hanging out in hacking forums, learning how to break and fix the internet. It wasn’t until I almost crossed an ethical line, that I realised that I could actually put my hacking skills to good use, and I got lucky running into the right people at the right time. It could have gone horribly wrong, but thanks to that lucky moment I now get to work with amazing people and do what I love every day.

The stark reality is that the UK doesn’t have enough talented people to help defend the nation against cyber-attacks. A recent survey found that 43% of businesses experienced a cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months. 70% of organisations polled in another report said they were in desperate need of cybersecurity skills. What’s the solution? The current number of young people going onto a career in cybersecurity is severely low. But making young people aware, from an early age, that this is an option and teaching the right sort of skills can help us build a first line of defence and gain an advantage over cyber criminals.

The company I work for – SANS Institute, a global IT security training company – is delivering Cyber Discovery for the UK Government. Cyber Discovery is a free, extracurricular programme open to students aged 14-18 across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It uses games, challenges and role playing to teach the basics of cybersecurity in a safe and fun setting. Have you ever wondered how a cyber-criminal gains complete control over a remote computer or how investigators recover deleted information from hard drives to solve crimes? These are the kinds of skills you will learn!

The future is bright

Student Jess Ingrey participated in Cyber Discovery last year along with over 23,000 other students across England. Thanks to the programme, she knows exactly what she wants to do in her future career: “Cyber Discovery has actually changed my life. The programme has given me access to an interactive, game-like platform that has allowed me to learn the skills required for this faster – and in a more enjoyable way – than could ever be achieved in a classroom environment. Participating in Year 1 also opened up a national network of like-minded people to me, who I can now proudly call my friends.” You can read more about her experience in her blog article.

It's hearing experiences like this that gives me hope for the future of cybersecurity. If you’ve even once considered how interesting it might be to work with computers or in cybersecurity, why not give it a go? Everyone has the base skills to be a cybersecurity rock star. Year 2 of the Cyber Discovery programme is now open for registrations until 7 January, so sign up as an individual or get your teachers to sign up your school and let’s see if you have what it takes!

By James Lyne, Head of Research and Development, SANS Institute