The latest manifesto from TechUK indicates a need to address both the digital skills gap and improve cyber security, otherwise the future of the UK's technology industry may be at risk.
It has been widely highlighted that there is a demand for digital skills in the technology industry that is not being met with a supply of candidates. But in the cyber-security sector, such a skills gap could have a dramatic effect.
Microsoft recently released a report that predicts a huge skills shortage will hit the industry by 2025, which will put the word's cyber security in danger.
More recently, the government's National Cyber Security Programme (NCSP) revealed that a lack of trained cyber security professionals presents a major concern, despite the increased awareness of cyber threats.
As such, a lack of skills in the sector puts companies in a difficult position of ensuring they are properly defended from hackers and other digital threats.
David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told V3 that a company which lacks up-to-date digital skills is at greater risk from cyber attacks.
"It's clear that if a company doesn't have IT staff with the necessary skills and experience in dealing with today's threats, it leaves itself open to attack since its strategy, policies, processes and security tools may not be appropriate to defend the company," Emm explained.
These sentiments are echoed by Ross Dyer, technical director at security firm Trend Micro, and Sian John, chief regional strategist at Symantec, who both told V3 that the skills gap is a core area that needs to be addressed in the IT industry as a whole and not just the cyber security sector.
Dyer highlighted that a particular concern is the lack of analytical skills needed to spot unusual trends in IT systems in order to identify security threats: "Where the skills gap really comes into play is interpreting [in real time] what's happening on a network."
While teaching coding and running apprentice programs and workshops are going some way to address the lack of digital skills in the overall technology industry, according to the NCSP, plugging the gap in the security sector is not so straightforward.
"The main risk to the delivery of skills-related objectives is that industry has yet to present a clear picture of the skillsets required, due to the immaturity and diversity of cyber as a sector," the NCSP report explained. "Without business defining the models of skills they require it is difficult to identify the gaps and begin to address them."
Hugh Boyes cyber security lead at the Institution of Engineering and Technology echoes the report's concerns, saying that a wider-ranging view to improving cyber security skills is needed. "The current cyber security skills initiatives have been focused on providing the skills for individuals employed in cyber security roles," he said.
"This is a short-term solution which does not address the need to improve the security awareness and skills of everyone involved in the design, production and use of software-based systems," said Boyes.
Boyes believes that investing in education and training at all levels across the UK will be needed to address the issues.
Symantec's John believes that this can be achieved by educating children and students in IT and computing first, then attracting them to cyber security. "We need to look at getting more people into IT in the beginning, and getting people into security after that," she said.
John believes people need to be made aware that a career path into both technology and cyber security is not prescriptive – IT A-levels and degrees are not always needed to enter the industry, and transferable skills and an interest in the sector are just as relevant.
While Trend Micro's Dyer acknowledged the need to bridge the skills gap, he believes that security software and services are going some way to mitigate the need for highly skilled security experts embedded within organisations.
"Trend Micro could help by providing a solution that removes the use of hard skills," he explained, detailing that assembling software to carry out threat analysis and protection bypasses the need for complex technical skills.
The IT skills gap is a pressing concern for the technology industry and the government. Some major companies are taking matters into their own hands, as evidenced by Microsoft's recent partnership with Akamai to launch a cyber security startup college to uncover the next generation of security experts.
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