by Matt Tomlin
A practical learning scheme, which teaches students some of the skills needed to combat cyber security risks, has piloted in the UK at Cardiff University. The Cyber Security Workforce Alliance, CWA for short, offered students from all subjects the opportunity last semester to spend 5 hours per week on an extracurricular virtual internship which uses applied learning for scenarios involving cyber-attacks.
Having begun in the USA in 2015, the idea behind this virtual internship is to bring practical skills such as problem solving, communication and teamwork into the classroom alongside the theme of cyber security so graduates can be more empowered when dealing with the workplace in today’s digital age.
There is also the need to fill a major skills gap in today’s labour market. The current number of open jobs in cyber security is estimated to be around 300 000, with a June 2017 report estimating this figure could increase to 3.5 million over the next four years.
Some experts are concerned that incompetency by organisations with regards these types of skills shortages could cause serious economic damage to a number of sectors ranging from utilities to finance. In light of recent cyber-attacks, some affecting NHS systems and others going global after spreading from a specific attack on companies in Ukraine, the intellectually fulfilling and potentially high-paying task of securing digital assets is becoming a major cause for interest from graduates and employers.
The students who participated in the CWA project were split into groups which became known as Enigma and MinMax (Short for Minimum Risk, Maximum Security). These groups were given real scenarios, which had previously been experienced in industry, for which they had to explore how best to solve a cyber security breach across all departments. Each week they would put together a presentation which developed with the help of feedback from professional mentors of the scheme via Skype.
The final presentations of the two groups took place in May in the Business School’s Postgraduate Teaching Centre. Both presentations covered how, hypothetically, the students, as representatives of departments such as Human Resources and Public Relations, would sustain success and repair security in light of a supposed cyber security breach.
Discussing audits, cost-benefit analysis and PESTLE analysis as ways of analysing their institutional scenarios, the groups pitched their solutions to an audience of various professionals from companies like American Express and PricewaterhouseCoopers as well as professionals from public sector services, including law enforcement.
Giving feedback on the final presentations, the professionals in the audience expressed the success of the students in communicating potential solutions to cyber security issues. CWA students also highlighted after their performances their interest in cyber security issues and the usefulness of practical skills which they had gained from working with mentors and industry-related scenarios.
The digital classroom experience is expected to continue at Cardiff University this academic year as the university is aiming to have as many students as possible partaking in extracurricular workplace-centric schemes like CWA. Keep up to speed with your e-mails, as well as Gair Rhydd’s News and Campus Life sections, for any information on these upcoming initiatives.