Striving to solve the security skills crisis

The Cyber Security Challenge is doing a fine job, but flat registration growth and weak Government funding are cause for concern, Tom Brewster discovers.

"We do need many more skilled people. We've got quite a lot of people out there who have a high level of latent capability but they don't realise they could have a professional job doing this."

As well as a new CEO, the Challenge has increased the frequency of competitions, whilst organisational changes have been made to address criticisms of last year's event.

We've got quite a lot of people out there who have a high level of latent capability.

Simple things like being able to provide players with more information about upcoming events has helped, whilst a new website with plenty of fresh features should help inspire some more potential security pros.

"Part of the response to last year's competition was that we needed to have an online, automated registration process," said Judy Baker, the Challenge's director.

"We are doing a lot of work to improve the careers and courses pages on our website. These will be available in March. They will include the answers to questions candidates have asked us; useful links and data about learning opportunities; and a page on the types of jobs available which will include short clips from employees of sponsor organisations talking about what they do and why they enjoy it.

"The registration process will also be improved and these coding changes are being worked on now."

Another enhancement has seen entrants gain more experience in actually working alongside security professionals. No doubt meeting some of the enigmatic characters in the industry Rik Ferguson from Trend Micro and Sophos' James Lyne to name just two - will help the industry look a little less dull.

Super skills

The infrastructural changes to the programme will undoubtedly help stimulate interest, yet the Challenge needs to find more quality this time around if it is to be deemed a worthy enterprise. Fortunately for the organisers, there are already some success stories to brag about in 2012.

In early January, the winner of the online round of the Challenge, Channon Powell, was handed a job at security management and compliance provider RandomStorm. Powell, a Microsoft specialist, will now be working on finding vulnerabilities. It's hugely positive that the Challenge is helping get people employed in the industry before the competitions are even finished.

There has been another star performer this year Cheltenham-based software engineer Tim Pullen. He is leading the way heading into the Masterclass final taking place in March and is already guaranteed some of the spoils come the end of the Challenge.

What set him apart, according to Lyne, was his ability to gather only the relevant threat information. "The key skill this year has been knowing when to stop, knowing how much analysis is enough and to know what information is important," Lyne said.

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