A consortium of government and private sector organisations has launched a major initiative to attract people into the IT security profession.
The Cyber Security Challenge, which began on Monday, is a series of competitions leading to prizes including bursaries, internships at major companies, and security training.
The initiative is necessary to combat a lack of cybersecurity professionals in the UK, which needs to be addressed for the good of the economy, security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said on Monday.
"We need many more cyber experts than are currently training," Neville-Jones told the Cyber Security Challenge launch event at University College London. "This should be a major priority. Cyber is integral to the running of public life."
Nigel Harrison, a member of the Office of Cyber Security, told ZDNet UK that the UK as a whole needs more cybersecurity professionals.
"We haven't got the people to do secure coding, we haven't got proper training programmes for network defence or computer forensics," said Harrison. "[This competition] is a seminal moment for cybersecurity as a profession."
The Cyber Security Challenge has a first round of online competitions followed by 'Masterclass' face-to-face rounds in January to produce an overall champion.
The virtual competitions began on Monday and include a network defence component run by QinetiQ and a 'treasure hunt' to find flaws in a dummy website, run by SANS Institute and Sophos. The competitions will take place on a series of dates until August, Cyber Security Challenge UK director Judy Baker told ZDNet UK on Monday.
"All organisations are having problems attracting people of the calibre they need," said Baker. "We need flexible, dynamic people, able to deal with rapidly changing situations."
In addition, a team digital forensics event is being run in conjunction with the US Department of Defence as part of its Cyber Crime Center (DC3) challenge. The winning team from the UK will receive a prize and be invited to the playoffs in January.
There are no age or experience limits to the competitions, said Baker, except that participants need to be sixteen or over. However, prizes will be allocated according to the needs and career aspirations of the participants, said Baker.
For example, the competitions are not closed to existing IT security professionals, but one of the prizes, a £3,300 bursary towards an MSc in Electronics and Security at Queen's University, Belfast, may not suit security professionals who are already highly qualified, said Baker.
Organisations sponsoring the challenge include the Cabinet Office, SANS Institute, Detica, QinetiQ, the Open University, Sophos, and EADS Defence and Security.
The Cyber Security Challenge was announced in April at the Infosecurity Conference 2010.