Skills gap ‘putting UK cyber safety at risk’

A dearth of skilled workers is hampering Britain’s ability to protect itself from costly internet attacks and it could take two decades to fill the gap.

The number of IT and cyber security professionals in the UK has not increased in line with the growth of the internet, spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

Government, education and business representatives told the NAO that the country lacks technical skills and the current pipeline of graduates will not meet demand.

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The cost of cyber crime to Britain is currently thought to be up to £27bn a year, while the Government previously pledged £650m in additional funding to its National Cyber Security Programme.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “The threat to cyber security is persistent and continually evolving. Business, government and the public must constantly be alert to the level of risk if they are to succeed in detecting and resisting the threat of cyber attack.”

The Government’s strategy has already started to deliver benefits, the NAO said, with the Serious Organised Crime Agency catching more than 2.3 million compromised debit or credit cards since 2011, preventing a potential loss of more than £500m.

But the watchdog warned Ministers must address the country’s current and future cyber security skills gap, which includes a need for psychologists and law enforcers, as well as technical staff.

Education officials interviewed by the NAO said it could take “up to 20 years to address the skills gap at all levels of education”.

MP Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts committee, said: “The use of the internet for commerce and communication is a force for good, but it also poses new and growing threats that government, businesses and individuals cannot ignore.

“With around 80 per cent of the internet in private hands, crossing international boundaries and spanning different jurisdictions, the Government cannot approach internet security in isolation.

“Having a robust and well thought-through strategy is crucial if the Government is to respond effectively to cyber threats.”