'Skills gap' seen in cybercrime fight

Feb. 14, 2013 at 12:07 AM
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LONDON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Britain has made progress on cybersecurity since 2011 but is falling short in producing a new generation of computer experts, a government report warns.

The National Audit Office report released Tuesday said that in the two years since the government approved $1 billion to combat computer crime as part its national Cyber Security Strategy, authorities have prevented the loss of more than $780 million through the detection of compromised credit and debit cards.

But, it warned, there remains a current and future cybersecurity skills gap among British information technology professionals, with the current pipeline of graduates and practitioners unable to meet the demands of a quickly evolving security landscape.

Education officials interviewed by the NAO said it could take up to 20 years to address the skills gap at all levels of education.

The cost of cybercrime to the British economy is estimated to be $28 billion-$42 billion. To help address the challenge, the Cyber Security Strategy was established to help protect government information, systems and networks and to involve the public and private industry in the effort.

That has produced results, the NAO said. In 2012, the public made 46,000 reports of cybercrime, amounting to $457 million worth of attempted fraud.

But the country's ability to stay on top of the cyberthreats is being hampered by a lack of qualified experts.

"A number of government departments commented that the U.K. depended on a small number of highly skilled people to participate in developing international technical standards," the report noted.

Interviewees were also concerned about "a lack of promotion of science and technology subjects at school, resulting in the reported lower uptake of computer science and technology courses by U.K. students," creating a skills gap that could take two decades to close.

Britain's Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition government says it's working to address this and that it intends to overhaul computer and technology teaching in schools to "make it genuinely about computer science rather than office skills."

"We agree that skills are crucial to cybersecurity, which is why we are investing heavily in research and education through establishing new centers for excellence in cybersecurity research," a government spokeswoman told the BBC.

Chi Onwurah, the opposition Labor Party's Shadow Cabinet minister with responsibility for cybersecurity, said that while there is "some welcome progress" in the NAO report, "there is significant room for improvement in leadership and coordination. This is symptomatic of this government's ad hoc approach."

Ministers, she said, "need to ensure that we have the skills we will need 10 years down the line."

James Lyne, director of technology strategy at the British computer security firm Sophos, told technology journal V3 the government's cyber strategy is hooking some small fish but is facing an overwhelming tide of criminal activity.

"I've been involved in a few cases where fraud websites or operations have been suppressed," he said. "I've undoubtedly noticed an increased responsiveness, clarity of process and willingness for industry and government to work together to make life harder for cyber criminals."

"That said," he added, "we see over 250,000 new pieces of malware a day and a new infected website every few seconds -- so there is clearly a great deal more work to be done."

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