Teaching cyber security


A range of new initiatives and resources is helping schools to introduce students to the world of cyber security as a possible career option. Judith Berry-May explains.

Cyber security is the protection of systems, networks and data in cyber-space. Although the threats may be ICT-related, the consequences of cyber-attacks can be very human. Take the recent eBay password hacking which affected more than 220 million people worldwide, with every customer being advised to change their password.

As the risk to these systems posed by cyber-crime rises and organisations improve their understanding of the security threats they face, they are doing more to manage the associated risks. This had led to an increased demand for people with the right kinds of skills and knowledge.

The UK has a world-class cyber security sector and this current demand for young talent is set to grow. However, at the same time, there is a severe shortage of young people entering the sector. Through the National Cyber Security Programme, funded by the Cabinet Office, a number of initiatives are running to help increase the number of talented school children going into the field of cyber security.

The Cyber Security Challenge

The Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme aims to raise awareness within secondary schools of the careers that are possible in cyber security.

Funded by the Cabinet Office through government’s National Cyber Security Programme, it uses using innovative and stimulating tools and scenarios to develop the practical and usable skills that are in high demand from industry.

It is open to all UK schools and is free. It begins with teaching packs offering a range of materials to support all teaching styles, with touchscreen games and infographics, as well as paper-based exercises, pitched at different levels and developed by UK cyber security experts.

As a teaching resource it is adaptable and can be delivered in a 50-minute lesson, expanded over several lessons, issued as a homework assignment, or delivered during an after-school computing club. More than 700 UK secondary schools are already involved.

The content of the packs cover the history of encryption and how it has been used – why people learn about it, what the threats are to our personal information, and why we need people to protect us.

It aims to not only spark students’ interest in the subject but also encourage them to apply what they have learnt and develop their own “uncrackable ciphers”, which are then posted online. Students from participating schools are then asked to crack each other’s ciphers in order to score sufficient points to qualify for the Cyber Games final, where after a fun day of solving challenges set by industry experts, the champions are revealed.

Cyber Games 2.0, the second of these face-to-face finals, took place in June and saw four school teams take on the role of counter-terrorism professionals and tackle cyber security treasure hunts and code-cracking exercises.

During the morning, the teams were faced with a game of cyber defence top trumps. They were sent out into the Cheltenham Science Festival to match cyber threat cards with cards representing an appropriate defensive solution. In the afternoon, they put what they had learnt into practice as they entered a cyber-terrorism attack scenario, which included cracking new codes in order to free a hostage trapped within a secret location in the school, all against the clock.

A team from the Grimsby Institute, one of England’s largest providers of further and higher education, was the first to decipher both the location of the hostage and the code to diffuse a “bomb” he was strapped to, thus claiming the title of Cyber Security Challenge Schools Champion.

Behind the Screen

Other initiatives aimed at improving these skills in secondary schools include materials produced by eSkills UK, the sector skills council for information technology, which supports the Cyber Security Challenge. Behind the Screen is a hub of free computing resources for your GCSE students, complete with lesson plans and mark schemes. The resources have been developed with professionals from the industry to provide authentic projects mapped to computing, ICT and computer science qualifications.

Content on cyber security for key stage 4, is already available and has been taken up by more than 360 UK schools. This introduces core principles such as threat awareness and planning, cyber-crime and computer forensics, security practices and principles, safety, privacy and ethics, and online interaction. The course was developed by eSkills UK with input from BP, BT, CREST, Fujitsu, PwC and QinetiQ. 

New learning materials that introduce 6th form students to the world of cyber security have recently been launched by eSkills UK as well.

Secure Futures

The Secure Futures campaign by eSkills UK aims to show how exciting and rewarding it can be to work in cyber security by pairing those in real careers with students thinking about their future paths.

It brings together UK employers and schools to support education in cyber security, and open students’ minds to the variety of career opportunities available in the sector. It gives teachers access to a wealth of free interactive resources including lesson plans, project briefs, and opportunities for cross-curricular learning. Free downloads of previous Cyber Security Challenge Schools Programme resources can be found on the site.


We want more secondary schools to take up these initiatives so that young people are encouraged to enter a career that is challenging, well-paid and in demand. Cyber security is the career of the 21st century.

  • Judith Berry-May is from the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance at the National Security Secretariat within the Cabinet Office.

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