What is cyber security?
Cyber security is defined as the protection of systems, networks and data in cyberspace. But what does that really mean? What does a cyber security expert do?
Do you own a laptop or mobile phone? What about an email address or bank account? Maybe you have a wireless coffee machine or refrigerator? Any device connected to the internet is vulnerable to a cyber attack and cyber criminals are experts at profiting from your data. A cyber security specialist's role is to stay one step ahead of organised criminals and patch the IT security holes before they can be exploited. Specialists look for vulnerabilities in hardware and software, find the best way to secure IT systems and when they find a potential threat, close it off immediately.
What is the HMG Cyber Schools Programme?
The HMG Cyber Schools Programme, being delivered as Cyber Discovery, is part of an ambitious skills programme designed to grow the UK's cyber capable workforce. It is intended to create a step change in specialist cyber security education and training for students in years 10-13 (14-18 year olds) across England. The aims of the extracurricular programme are to promote cyber security as an exciting and recognised career choice and to equip students with some of the skills needed to enter the cyber security profession. Cyber Discovery will also identify elite young talent and accelerate their entry into and interest in the cyber security profession.
Stage 1: CyberStart Assess – Students in years 10-13 are invited to take an online assessment to gauge their suitability for the programme. CyberStart Assess consists of a set of online questions that measure an individual's existing knowledge of and aptitude for computer security. Based on identifiable, measurable key skills and traits, it identifies those who possess the innate qualities of an effective security practitioner. No prior computer knowledge is needed and students from all educational backgrounds are welcomed.
Stage 2: CyberStart Game – Students begin their cyber security education by taking part in CyberStart Game. Using a suite of online challenges and games, players take on the role of a security agent and tackle realistic examples of tests and threats faced by cyber security practitioners in the field. Security disciplines such as Linux, cryptography and programming are all introduced and developed in a fun and engaging environment.
Stage 3: CyberStart Essentials – For those that excel in CyberStart Game, CyberStart Essentials provides additional learning opportunities through 100 extra hours of tailored and engaging content. Delivered online, participants work through a collection of video tutorials, quizzes and guides before completing end of module tests to assess their progress. This phase of the programme focuses on theoretical concepts, expanding players' knowledge beyond the skills established in CyberStart Game.
Stage 4: CyberStart Elite – The top performing students who've participated successfully in previous stages will be invited to the final stage - CyberStart Elite. This will include lots of exciting opportunities. The first of which being a face-to-face live Capture the Flag event where teams compete to defend systems and prevent cyber-attacks against the clock and in a competitive atmosphere. The theory learnt in CyberStart Essentials combined with the hands-on experience from CyberStart Game is fully applied as participants perform important technical cyber security tasks. In addition, there will be other exciting training opportunities with the industry's top experts.
Who is delivering the programme?
Cyber Discovery is delivered by a consortium of partners that all have extensive experience in running successful courses in cyber security for young people. The team behind the programme consists of SANS Institute, BT, Cyber Security Challenge UK and FutureLearn.
Why is HMG's Cyber Schools Programme important?
The UK has a world-class cyber security sector. However, while the online world has grown exponentially, the number of people with cyber security skills and capability has not increased at the same rate. There is therefore a critical need to rapidly increase the number of cyber security professionals in the UK. And with the UK economy becoming increasingly digital, cyber security is now central to national security and to ensuring that the UK is a safe place to live and work.
Why is the programme only open to schools in England?
This is an innovative new programme and we want to pilot it to make sure it works well before we look to expand and cover other parts of the UK.
How do I get involved?
First you need to take part in CyberStart Assess - a fun series of challenges that has been designed to help find the most suitable young people to enter the Cyber Discovery learning programme.
Successful CyberStart Assess participants then begin the learning phases of Cyber Discovery - as part of a club or as an individual. Both formats will at the start broadly follow the same content and tools; the only difference is the way you work.
Cyber Discovery can be used as an online learning tool within extracurricular school clubs. Organised by a club leader, you will work through the tools and challenges with the support of a mentor. Clubs allow you to work together, share ideas and have dedicated time in a group to progress through the programme.
Registering as an individual allows you to sign in from a remote location to work through Cyber Discovery at your own pace. You will progress through levels and challenges by yourself and drive your own progress through the programme. Instead of dedicated time in a club, individuals must find their own time to complete tools and exercises. Online support and helpful guides are made available however.
Who can take part? Do I have to still be in full-time education?
To take part in Cyber Discovery you must be in years 10-13, attend school/college in England and have access to the internet and a computer. No previous knowledge of computing or cyber security is needed and students of all backgrounds are encouraged to take part.
We welcome Cyber Discovery applicants residing in England who are not in full time education and are between the ages of 14-18.
Is there a cost to take part in the programme?
There is no cost to take part in Cyber Discovery.
Is there a limit to the number of students who can participate in CyberStart Assess?
Absolutely not. The assessment process will identify those with a natural aptitude for cyber security and all those that achieve a qualifying benchmark score will be invited to take part.
What happens if I don't make it through the assessment phase?
Students that do not make it through the assessment phase this year are encouraged to try again next school year.
What is the time commitment required for me to take part?
As the programme will be delivered online, it is designed to allow you to progress at your own pace. However, for those who excel, we will invite you to face to face learning opportunities and competitions.
You can commit as much of your extracurricular time as you wish. We would recommend a minimum of 4 hours per week should be spent to make it to the elite stage.
I did not make it through to CyberStart Game. What happens now?
For all the information and FAQ’s about the selection criteria, applying for next year and how to improve your skills, read our blog post on Medium.
What do students learn in Cyber Discovery?
In the first year of Cyber Discovery we have hundreds of hours of content spanning all kinds of security disciplines. To give you a taste of the content here are a few of the areas we will cover:
Linux – Within the security community, Linux is the dominant operating system. Linux challenges teach students how to use the terminal so that they can work with security tools that experts use on a day-to-day basis. They will learn the commands to list files, change directories and run programs.
Web Attacks – There are several common security flaws that can be found in many websites. Web attack challenges teach students to go back to the basics when looking to secure a website. They will learn how websites are structured and the techniques, such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting, that can be used to exploit them.
Forensics – Computer forensics is the examination of digital media with the aim of identifying, preserving, recovering and analysing digital information. In this topic, challenges mainly focus on file forensics, teaching students how to recover data from files and presenting the facts they have found.
Binary Attacks – This is a complicated and technical subject. The challenges in Cyber Discovery only go in to the basics, focusing on key objectives such as: what is a binary file, ELF files and overflows.
Cryptography – Cryptography is the art of writing code in a way that is secure from anyone that doesn't know the trick to decoding it. Challenges in this topic will teach students the difference between encoding and encryption as well as steganography, the art of hiding the information's existence!
Programming – Learning to program is a key step in understanding how computers work. Challenges in Cyber Discovery touch on various programming languages but the main focus is on Python. Students will learn the differences between types of languages, how to use variables and how to define functions.
The Cyber Discovery programme team will work with industry, academia and government to develop and align the curriculum to make sure it contains the right fundamentals and supports the entry requirements to the profession.
Club leader information
What is a club leader?
A club leader could be a parent working through Cyber Discovery with their own children. A club leader could also be a teacher using Cyber Discovery in the classroom or running an after-school club. Finally, a club leader could be a volunteer who has been background checked and we assign to a school or extra-curricular club. Club leaders will facilitate groups of students to get together regularly and learn from one another.
What material will I teach?
All the material needed to run a successful Cyber Discovery club exists within the four tools/phases of the programme. The learning tools are effectively step by step guides that allow students to work on challenges by themselves and at their own pace.
You will have access to all the learning material if you would like to create small teaching modules or demonstrations and structure your sessions. Of course, you can also work through the programme yourself and improve your own cyber security skills alongside the students!
What existing knowledge do I need to be a club leader? What does it entail?
Running a Cyber Discovery club and taking on the role of a club leader requires you to provide students with a working space where they can dedicate time to working through the tools and challenges in the programme. That may be within an extracurricular school club or in a local community organisation. You would act as a facilitator, providing motivation, encouragement and support to help mentor students as they progress and pick up new skills.
Club leaders need to be able to support students through the self-learning elements of the programme and training will be provided for this. For example, club leaders need to know how the course is organised, what is expected of students, what controls exist, etc. The programme will include several courses for club leaders which give a general introduction to cyber security and will enable club leaders to better facilitate the students as they progress through the programme.
To be eligible you would need to pass certain safeguarding requirements, which we will verify during the initial programme phases.
What equipment do I need?
There are only two key requirements to run a Cyber Discovery club: computers and a reliable internet connection.
CyberStart Assess and the first five levels of CyberStart Game can be run on a modern browser e.g. the latest version of Chrome or Firefox. The majority of these challenges can be completed with normal browser functionality, but for some challenges you will require access to the browser developer tools, which are typically easily enabled. In some instances you may also require scripting capabilities if you make it to the higher level challenges.
A heavily restricted computer will allow you to complete many challenges, but to truly explore cyber security you will need some advanced access and tools. If browser developer tools and scripting tools are blocked or restricted, some challenges will not be completable.
For students that make it to more advanced content they will require a virtual machine, which is installed with all the tools required to complete the programme. Instructions on how to setup the software and the virtual machine will be made available at the required stage. Student computers will need to be able to run VMWare Player or VirtualBox on a Windows or Mac device respectively.
I am a cyber security industry volunteer or a cyber security company wanting to help out with this programme?
We don't just need volunteers. We would like cyber security experts who can help us out when we deliver face to face competitions, provide resources for future years, and mentor or teach our elite students. We welcome any help you can give us with this programme.
Please contact us titling your email "Industry Expertise" to firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you can support us.
Will club leaders be paid?
Club leaders will be unpaid volunteers.
For any press enquiries please contact Babel PR on 0207 434 5550 or DCMS press office on 020 7211 2210.