The UK government has pledged to invest £7.5m to create two new higher education centres designed to train the next generation of security experts.
The centres will be based at Oxford University and Royal Holloway, University of London and will provide students with multi-disciplinary PhD training in cyber security. The government confirmed that £2.5m of the funding will be provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), while the remaining £5m will come from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.
The centre at the University of Oxford will focus on emerging technology themes including big data security, effective systems verification and assurance, and real-time security strategy. The Royal Holloway centre will focus more on enterprise, providing training on provably secure cryptographic systems and protocols, security of telecommunication networks and critical infrastructure, trusted and trustworthy platforms, organisational processes and socio-technical systems.
Both universities' doctoral programmes will last four years and the universities are expected to produce at least 66 PhD graduates in total over the next seven years. Universities minister David Willetts praised the initiative, claiming that more security experts are needed to help protect the UK government and industry from the growing cyber threat.
"Businesses are facing more cyber attacks than ever before, putting their confidential information and intellectual property at risk. We must do everything we can to tackle this threat and make them less vulnerable. These new centres will produce a new generation of cyber security specialists, able to use their skills and research expertise to improve cyber security and drive growth," he said.
The centres' creation has been praised by the security community. FireEye's vice president for Europe Paul Davis, commended the scheme, but said the government must also focus on teaching existing professionals and boards of directors about cyber security.
"A government-backed investment in equipping the next generation with the skills and intelligence needed to detect, prevent and analyse these complex malware events, is very welcome news," he said.
"[But] the human layer remains by far the greatest risk to an organisation. The continued education and re-education of people around modern security threats cannot be stressed highly enough as a vital component in risk mitigation."
LogRhythm, managing director and vice president Ross Brewer, also praised the scheme but said its success will heavily depend on the exact curriculums taught.
"Modern cyber criminals are experts in their own right, so it makes sense to build an army of graduates with the relevant, highly specialist skills needed to combat them," he said.
"That said, it will be important to closely monitor the progress of initiatives such as this, to ensure that they are delivering the desired results. With much debate still ongoing over the government's security spending priorities, there is little room for error if the UK is to indeed be seen as a 'beacon of expertise'."
The centres come as a part of the UK's wider cyber strategy. The strategy was announced in 2011 when the UK government pledged to invest £650m to improve the nation's cyber defences and has since funded numerous initiatives. Most recently the UK government has promised law enforcement agencies new mobile and internet monitoring powers to help combat criminals and terrorists in cyberspace.
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