There have been many hot discussion topics around the area of security recently, with much said about data breaches, breach disclosure, privacy and, of course, government surveillance.

One other area that has received a lot of chatter lately is in the area of education and preparing the next generation for careers in this wonderful field.

Thats nothing new of course – over the past 7 or 8 years I’ve often seen much said about how the industry is growing and how demand for top quality personnel cannot be met by the number of IT students currently in the required areas of study (such conversations normally go hand-in-hand with observations about how infosec fails to attract women into its ranks too).

But recently we have seen new measures taken to address that deficiency with the UK government last month promising new learning materials to children as young as 11 in order to publicise jobs in the sector, following comments from the National Audit Office in February when it said that a lack of skilled workers was hampering the country’s fight against cyber crime.

Other initiatives have sprung up recently too such as Cyber Streetwise, funded by the National Cyber Security Programme, with the intention of significantly improving “the online safety behaviour and confidence of consumers and small businesses (SMEs).”

Additionally, the Cyber Security Challenge, continues to become more prominent as it “aims to bring more talented people into the Cyber Security Profession.”

And now, according to the Independent, we have the UK’s surveillance industry offering official certification for master’s degrees in cyber security.

In a briefing note sent out to universities by GCHQ, the spy agency says that there are now a “significant number” of masters degrees on offer in the UK which incorporate elements of cyber security and this makes it difficult for students and employers alike to differentiate between the various courses.

Therefore, GCHQ has asked the educational establishments to apply to have their courses certified in order to allow students to say that they have “successfully completed a GCHQ-certified degree.”

The key benefits of a Certified Masters in Cyber Security are, according to GCHQ:

  • providing guidance to prospective students and employers on the content and quality of such degrees
  • providing Masters students who have completed their certified degree with an additional form of recognition – i.e., that they have successfully completed a GCHQ certified degree
  • helping to further enhance the quality, focus and relevance of Masters degrees
  • helping universities with certified Masters degrees to attract additional numbers / higher quality students both from the UK and abroad
  • helping employers (in industry, government and academia) during the recruitment process to better understand, and distinguish between, the Masters qualifications of job applicants

Professor Fred Piper was the founding director of the information security group at Royal Holloway, which offered the first cyber security master’s in the UK back in 1992. He has been working with GCHQ to develop the criteria for the new certification:

“When we launched our masters in 1992 it was unique. Then cyber security became a buzzword, and now there are courses everywhere. Some are very good, while some are good but do not really focus on cyber security. At the moment there’s no way of knowing which courses are strong – there are so many qualifications out there, that when people ask which course they should take, it is very hard to say.”

Universities that already offer a master’s in security are invited to apply for full certification with a closing date of June 20. Educational establishments looking to offer such courses in the future can apply for a provisional stamp of approval.

GCHQ itself will send personnel on the certified courses – read more here – but hopes that they will also be of benefit to other players in both the public and private sectors.

As of now, GCHQ has already certified two cyber security training centres – Royal Holloway and the University of Oxford – with students at both currently in their first year of study.

Whatever you may think of GCHQ et al. in the wake of all those spying claims, it is refreshing to see all of the educational opportunities arising for people of all levels isn’t it?

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