Employers are looking for thousands of graduates interested in playing a part in protecting UK cyberspace.
The global cyber attack in May 2017 which affected the National Health Service (NHS) among others attracted worldwide attention. But large-scale – and low-level – cyber attacks are likely to become increasingly common in years to come.
Rising risk levels threaten both institutions and individuals, and cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing industries in the UK. Cybersecurity jobs and degree courses are at an all-time high.
Who protects us?
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is the UK’s leading cybersecurity organisation, tasked with protecting the country from increasing threats of attack.
Part of the national intelligence and security agency known as GCHQ, the NCSC informs and advises business and the public sector on incoming attacks. Working with businesses, intelligence agencies, the police and the Armed Forces, its main purpose is to reduce the cybersecurity risk to the UK by improving its cybersecurity and cyber resilience.
"We must all work together to reduce the increasing cyber threats... but when attacks do get through, it's vital that we have robust action plans to defend against them", says NCSC chief executive officer Ciaran Martin.
It is about preventing attacks in the first place but also reducing damage when attacks get through and helping victims recover quickly.
New technologies, new risks
Technological advances mean members of the public are potentially more exposed to the risk of cyberattacks than ever.
Advances in technology present all kinds of new opportunities. But more and more connected devices per household mean more and more targets for attackers. Every new gadget is another potential way in for criminals.
How many attacks are there?
Different organisations measure and define attacks in different ways. One English university has reported facing millions of attacks, while others talk in hundreds and thousands.
In a three-month period last year, the UK faced 188 high-level attacks serious enough to warrant the NCSC’s involvement. But there were also “countless lower level ones”, the organisation says.
Countless is the right word. It is difficult to keep track of every single attack across the country. What we do know is that the number is on the rise.
2016 saw the number of known successful attacks on universities double. In the same year, there were more computer misuse crimes across the UK than those reported for criminal damage or violence against a person.
Thankfully, only a relatively small proportion of attacks lead to breaches, which range from data theft to denial-of-service attacks. The challenge is to keep that as low as possible.
More risks, more opportunities
This is where you come in. Cybersecurity agencies and companies study attacks from all over the world, which can take place at any time. But they need help to ensure they can continue to do so suitably. Employers are looking for thousands of graduates interested in playing a part in protecting UK cyberspace. The country already employs more than 100,000 cybersecurity professionals.
Careers in cybersecurity can be both lucrative and rewarding. Demand is greater than supply, and cybersecurity graduates are among the most sought after.
Cybersecurity starting salaries generally range from £25k to £30k, with a large proportion of graduates immediately earning more than the average national salary. Many go on to earn considerably more just a few years down the line.
Working in cybersecurity can be incredibly varied and exciting. Cybersecurity professionals might go from tackling a global attack like the one that hit the NHS one day to helping a victim of identity theft the next. They can make a real difference to people’s lives.
How to start a cybersecurity career
Universities now offer more cybersecurity courses than ever before. Many programmes include foundation or placement years to give those studying the subject opportunities to work alongside professionals from an early stage.
The NCSC certifies certain cybersecurity degrees to recognise the country’s top courses and the graduates that have successfully completed them. NCSC certification can help direct prospective students to the courses with the best record and direct employers to the students who have graduated from them. To be certified, these programmes are assessed by an independent expert panel.
Joining the mission
Choosing passwords carefully can make hacking more time-consuming and persuade attackers to try a different household. Similarly, the stronger that adversaries sense a nation’s cyber defences are, the more likely they are to try elsewhere.
“Ultimately criminals work on return on investment, and we want the UK to be a hard target for criminals", says NCSC Technical Director Dr Ian Levy.
The government is investing to boost the country’s cyber defences as much as it can, but it needs help. The more skilled and motivated people who choose careers in cybersecurity, the greater the chances of preventing an attack as damaging as the NHS breach in the future.
For more information about NCSC-certified degree courses visit https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/information/ncsc-certified-degrees