Safety was the key issue when CGI cyber industry specialists visited classrooms to inspire pupils

CYBER security has become a huge issue in recent years which is why moves are being made to encourage young people in Scotland to develop skills in the field.

Recent breaches in the systems of banks, universities, businesses and governments have shown the importance of cyber security and the need is growing for experts to help combat the problem.

Millions of jobs are opening up in the field worldwide and in Scotland demand is currently outstripping the skills available. 

Although Scottish universities have a global reputation for their cyber security courses there is a brain drain problem that the Scottish Government and industry is currently working to eradicate.

In a new collaboration, cyber industry specialists have been working together with teachers to help pupils develop skills and raise awareness of cyber security.

Cyber experts from global company CGI worked with teachers and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on developing the new approach. A CGI team then tried out the pilot at Bellahouston Academy in Glasgow in early February.

“Online security is becoming a number one priority as we can see from the number of breaches there have been recently,” said CGI’s Director, Consulting Expert John Bruce. 

“The area of cyber security is a hotspot for jobs in the UK but there is a bit of a skills loss from Scotland which is a significant challenge so we are hoping to equip people with skills so they can take advantage of jobs here.

“There are millions of cyber security jobs globally and by the end of this year it is expected there will be 1000 open jobs in Scotland, so demand is outstripping the available skills. It is important we have the skills coming through or that gap is going to continue to widen.”

In developing the lesson, the cyber specialists made sure it was relevant from an industry perspective as well as giving an insight to pupils about what can actually happen. In order to do so they made up a fake airline called Alba Air and created a website which the pupils had to test for potential weaknesses.

They also showed the difference between ethical hacking, which is about hacking into a site to highlight its vulnerabilities, and hacking where the sole purpose is to compromise a company or government and steal its data.

Using the realistic Alba Airline website the experts were able to bring to life what can actually happen in the real world. “It gave them a feel for what a career in cyber security would be like,” said Bruce. “It was as much about that as taking them through the content.

“It is very rewarding to be able to go and do that sort of thing and it is something we hope can be rolled out nationwide as another part of the curriculum that schools can use.

“This young generation is very interested in how these things work and how they break them and that kind of mindset is really important for people moving into cyber security. That is what we are looking for. I call it a spidey sense that you almost have to have - where you are not satisfied with the status quo but want to know how things work and how you can make them better.”

He said the pupils, both male and female, responded well to the lesson.
“We are really keen to get that gender balance as technology, especially cyber security, is very male orientated,” said Bruce. “It was fantastic to see how many girls were interested. Some of them took a back seat on day one but on the second day there were at least two groups out of four or five where girls were doing all the work on the computer. It’s good to encourage girls in STEM subjects as it gives them an opportunity to go into these careers.”

He added: “We have the most highly regarded universities in the UK in cyber security at Glasgow Caledonian, Napier and Abertay. They are producing a lot of talent but there is a need to keep the graduates in Scotland and CGI is at the forefront of trying to do that.”

Six secondary schools and employers from across Scotland took part in the trial which saw around 120 pupils learn all about penetration testing, more commonly known as ‘ethical hacking’ or ‘pen testing’.

“CGI is committed to ensuring that the next generation of cyber security specialists have the relevant knowledge and understanding to take advantage of the highly skilled cyber security jobs being created within Scotland,” said Lindsay McGranaghan, Business Unit Leader for CGI in Scotland. 

HeraldScotland:

“Working in partnership with SDS allows CGI’s industry experts to share their expertise and work experiences with Scotland’s future cyber security specialists. At the heart of this we are promoting an ethical and safe environment for them to learn the future skills that are in demand within the cyber security industry”