‘Cyber Jedi’ schools contest a new hope for Britain’s IT empire to strike back

Ministers are supporting plans for a national competition for schools in the hope of encouraging teenagers, especially girls, to become so-called “cyber Jedi” – defending firms, banks and government departments from an ever increasing number of online attacks. This is from the Guardian…

Two thousand schools will take part in a pilot project starting in September, with the aim of rolling out the contest across England and Wales next year.

The organisers are not looking for people with a hacking background, or even those who already are computer literate.

“We need kids with raw talent in things like problem solving,” said Stephanie Daman, the head of Cyber Security Challenge UK, the government-funded body driving the idea.

“One of the most important messages we need to get across is that cybersecurity is a proper career, and it is not just for geeks. We need to get away from that image and encourage a much broader range of people to get involved in this area because the country is desperately short of them. And we need more women.”

A competition for grown-ups is already under way, with the latest winner crowned champion last month. Stephen Miller, 28, is a chemist and had no formal background in IT before he decided to take part in the challenge, beating thousands of other hopefuls and opening doors to potential jobs at places such as GCHQ, the government’s electronic intelligence-gathering centre in Cheltenham.

The junior competition will be similar, said Daman, but aimed specifically at teenagers at secondary school. “Kids need to know there is a real career in this, because they have no concept at the moment. And we need to spark their interest. It’s a profession like law or accountancy, with well-paid salaries.

“A lot of companies are desperate to hire people for the roles in cybersecurity, but they have not been able to find the number of qualified recruits. There is a huge gap in terms of the number of properly qualified people in this area, and we need to tap into talent we know is out there.”

The coalition government made cyber security a “tier one” national priority in the 2010 strategic defence and security review, because of the damage that is being done to the UK economy from theft, espionage and sabotage from cyber space.

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