Criminal activity is increasingly migrating to the digital world as opportunities arise as a result of the proliferation of online payments and increased usage of cloud storage for sensitive information. In the last year alone, the UK has seen a 60 per cent increase in cyber crime, which is costing the UK economy an estimated £81bn.
As part of the UK Government's £860m strategy to combat this rise in nefarious online activity, which ultimately undermines confidence in e-commerce, GCHQ, the UK electronic spy agency, has accredited master's courses in online security at the universities of Oxford (MSc in Software and Systems Security), Lancaster (MSc in Cyber Security), Royal Holloway (MSc in Information Security) and Edinburgh Napier (MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics), in addition to granting provisional certifications to the universities of Cranfield (MSc in Cyber Defence and Information Assurance) and Surrey (MSc in Information Security).
Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, who announced the certifications during a visit to the Gloucester-based security agency, said "cyber Security is a crucial part of this government's long term plan for the British economy", adding that "we want to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to do business online."
The accredited courses, which include ethical hacking (in which students learn to identify weaknesses in cyber defences of core infrastructure such as financial institutions) are aimed at addressing the current skills gap faced by the likes of GCHQ when recruiting so called 'cyber warriors' to defend the UK's online business environment.
Mark Hughes, the president of BT's security team, said there was a "skills gap" in cyber security acument in the UK and welcomed the first GCHQ-accredited courses, noting that "we are acutely aware of the impact of the UK cyber skills gap and recruiting the right people with the right knowledge and skills is a big deal for us. As a leading Internet service provider we want to employ the very best."
According to Awais Rashid, director of security at Lancaster University's security research centre, PhD students who go on to work for large institutions in this field can command starting salaries of up to £80,000.