UK seeks next generation of cyber security specialists

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Media captionAre you a code breaker? Your country needs you. Richard Westcott reports.

A national competition has been launched to find the next generation of UK cyber security specialists.

The Cyber Security Challenge will put entrants through a series of online and face-to-face competitions to assess their abilities.

The prizes on offer include bursaries towards university study as well as places on top training courses.

The challenge is being run to help fill out the numbers of skilled computer security workers Britain can call on.

"Defending all of our interests in cyberspace is a relatively small cadre of talented and highly skilled public sector and private sector cyber security professionals," said Baroness Neville-Jones, Minister of Security.

Lady Neville-Jones said the pool of available professionals had to grow and the Cyber Security Challenge was an "innovative" way to attract people to take up the profession.

Skills shortage

Kevin Streater, from the Open University, which is a partner in the Challenge, said the UK needed to tempt more people into computer security.

"We are really suffering quite a major challenge at the moment," he said. "A lot of people that came in through to 2000 have moved on, they moved up into different roles and people that came in during the 60s and 70s are retiring."

Computer security expert Tony Dyhouse told the BBC that many people did not realise how much work went on behind the scenes to secure the internet.

Image caption Spam is one of the more visible consequences of cyber crime

"It's a bit like an iceberg," he added. "People only see the tip but in fact there's quite a lot beneath the waters."

The challenge officially launches on 26 July when two separate competitions will be kicked off.

A virtual competition takes the form of a treasure hunt that will involve looking for flaws on a dummy website and answering questions about what was found. The challenge will take about two hours to complete, and will be run on several dates between September and December.

The face-to-face challenge will see teams taking over a simulated network and defending it against a series of attacks carried out by security professionals.

The winners of these initial competitions will go forward to the UK Masterclass at which they will work with others to defend a different simulated network.

Also participating in the Masterclass will be winners of an associated digital forensics challenge that is currently underway.

More than 30 prizes are available to win as part of the Challenge including cash to help pay the fees for university computer security courses and places on training schemes.

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