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New programme launched to identify cyber excellence
Antonia Filmer  London | 15th Aug 2015

The UK government has announced the launch of CyberFirst, a pilot student sponsorship programme, which is aimed at identifying individuals who have the aptitude to become the next generation of cyber security experts. The scheme is based on the Israeli Talpiot, which identifies exceptional cyber promise to create a cyber-elite force, who will go on to great careers in government and the private sector. Israel has more high-tech start-ups and a larger venture capital industry per capita than any other country.

Cyber is one of the four Tier-1 British national security threats, the other three being terrorism, a major conflict between states that draws in the UK and a major accident or natural disaster. Ciaran Martin, former director general for Cyber Security at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) says, "Great things happen on the Internet. Terrible things happen online too. All human life is here." One of GCHQ's purposes is to look at the malevolent side of human nature, which covers hostile state led activity, commercial espionage (sometimes state sponsored — on an incredible, industrial scale) and highly sophisticated criminal enterprises. CyberFirst builds on GCHQ's recent Cyber Summer Schools, the Cyber Security Challenge and the National Maths Challenge, that have a proven track record in identifying exceptional talent. A typical candidate profile would be British, less than 25 years old or a school leaver after A levels and beginning a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Bachelor's degree. They could also be at university starting their second year. Applicants who meet this criterion would be invited to sit a further critical thinking assessment and interview. The main difference with other student sponsorships is that CyberFirst is less interested in A level results, but more in proven technical achievements within a rigorous competition in a peer group.

The initial pilot is for 20 students who are offered £4,000 per year towards their degree, eight paid weeks' work experience in national security roles during the degree, followed by three years. The plan is to have 1,000 students in the scheme within five years. The UK now has 13 universities, conducting world class research that has been recognised by GCHQ as "Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research".

 
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