UK spy agency GCHQ confronts cybersecurity skills shortage with certified degrees

The UK surveillance agency GCHQ tackles a shortage of graduates with the necessary information security skills by accrediting degree courses.

UK surveillance agency GCHQ is attempting to bolster the quality of cybersecurity skills in its recruits and at UK firms by certifying Master's degree courses.

The agency has accredited six Master's degree courses at UK universities as meeting its 'stringent criteria' for providing a foundation in 'cybersecurity'.

The UK government warned last year that the country's ability to defend itself online could be compromised by an ongoing IT security skills shortage that could last for decades , and the move is part of a series of measures to address that shortfall.

Francis Maude, UK minister for the Cabinet Office, said: "Every time I visit GCHQ I see first-hand their tremendous work on cybersecurity.

"Cybersecurity is a crucial part of this government's long term plan for the British economy. We want to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to do business online. Through the excellent work of GCHQ, in partnership with other government departments, the private sector and academia, we are able to counter threats and ensure together we are stronger and more aware."

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The accreditation is part of the wider UK National Cyber Security Programme.

The six certified/provisionally certified Master's degrees were judged to provide well-defined and appropriate content, to the appropriate standard. The courses are:

    • Edinburgh Napier University — Degree — MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics
    • Lancaster University — Degree — MSc in Cyber Security
    • University of Oxford — Degree — MSc in Software and Systems Security
    • Royal Holloway, University of London — Degree — MSc in Information Security
    • Cranfield University — Degree — MSc in Cyber Defence and Information Assurance
    • University of Surrey — Degree — MSc in Information Security

A further call for universities to submit courses for Master's certification will take place in late 2014 and will be extended to degrees that are focused on areas of information security deemed critical, such as digital forensics.

Certification of Master's degrees is the first step towards recognising universities that may qualify as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Education (ACEs-CSE). It is anticipated that invitations for ACE-CSE applications will be issued to the academic community in summer 2015.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden recently shone light on some of GCHQ's activities, with Snowden producing documents detailing Tempora, a mass surveillance programme to monitor internet traffic to and from the UK.

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