Cyber security needs you!

James Hadley, CEO & Founder of Immersive Labs, talks about how accessible cyber security is to everyone

With social media and web giants like Facebook and Google under fire for potentially exposing users’ data, it’s hard to get through life without having data security referenced on an almost daily basis in the news. It may go over most of our heads, but the reality is that data security is bound to catch every one of us out at some point. So much of our lives is held in cyber space that protecting this sphere and becoming skilled in information security is gaining importance. Indeed, the skills shortage in cyber security is also well-documented, so it’s a double-edged shovel that further widens the skills gap.

Of course, many university and higher education students may choose to study computer science and forensics and immerse themselves in the deep technical facets of cyber, while others may have more of a cursory intrigue around the subject. Both positions are admirable; however, often with classroom learning, it isn’t conducive to practical cyber skills learning. And once graduated, achieving professional certifications is not always a good indicator of aptitude when it comes to cyber security.

Equally, students who choose not to do computer science degrees may well have an aptitude for cyber that goes undiscovered. In fact, there are several traits that make good cyber security professionals: curiosity, self-motivation, analytical thinking and willingness to learn. Notice that technical is not listed in those crucial traits, for the simple reason that this can be learned as long as most of the other traits exist. People from non-technical backgrounds can bring fresh perspectives to cyber security and assist with issues that are just as much people problems as they are deeply technical. Often, skills from different degrees, work experience and even soft skills are transferable into a cyber role – and incredibly beneficial when utilised.

Users can learn at their own pace and at their own level of understanding, moving from novice to ninja

A good way to ‘top up’ practical skills or even start a cyber career from scratch is continuous learning through the Immersive Labs Digital Cyber Academy (DCA) for students. It’s a free initiative designed to get more academics involved in cyber security – and it is completely agnostic of degree study.

Users can learn at their own pace and at their own level of understanding, moving from novice to ninja. The platform is also browser based, so anyone in full or part-time study can register and start honing their cyber skills immediately, without introducing any risk to a home or university network.

One user of the platform said, ‘I’ve found that it has given me the opportunity to explore a lot of areas that my university doesn’t cover or doesn’t cover on a more technical level. I’ve always found that I’ve learned better from doing rather than reading or being “talked at” by lecturers, so the environment that Immersive Labs provides has been really beneficial for me.’

Importantly, the skills developed within the platform will unlock various badges, based on the labs that have been completed. This adds a degree of competition among other users that has been described as ‘addictive’ by users of the platform. In fact, there is also a leaderboard which shows where universities using the Digital Cyber Academy around the world stand in the ranks.

Companies wishing to advertise jobs within the platform can post their job specs, along with the badge requirements necessary to fulfil the role. Once students achieve certain badges, they can unlock the job specifications on the platform and apply for positions within some of the world’s top companies. Unlike other training programmes, Digital Cyber Academy students never graduate. Cyber threats continually evolve, so students must keep pace and develop their skills to keep their place on a globally competitive leaderboard. The leaderboard means that users can benchmark their skills against others worldwide. It also means employers can identify real-world cyber talent, which isn’t determined solely by training certificates.

Many see cyber security as inaccessible or an industry reserved for the elite, but this is a myth. Hopefully, with more students joining the DCA to see if they’re cut out for a cyber security career, it can expand the talent pool, shrink the skills gap and ultimately keep our nation safe from cyber crime.