Identifying the Next Generation of Cyber Security Professionals

04 December 2017


I’m Abigail Wilson, a senior associate in the PwC UK Cyber Security practice. On a day-to-day basis I help my clients gain assurance over their security defences. I’m passionate about protecting the UK’s critical infrastructure, especially how we can understand and deter the threats posed by sophisticated attackers. I’m also a long-standing supporter of the UK Cyber Security Challenge and alongside Robert Smith, represent PwC as a competition assessor at their events.

The Cyber Security Challenge is a UK-based charity with the overarching aim of addressing our growing cyber security skills gap. They promote careers in cyber security through community outreach, and by hosting national competitions which enable enthusiasts to showcase their skills. A few weeks ago they held their annual Masterclass competition, where talented individuals competed in a three day event for the chance to be crowned the UK’s best talent of 2017. Showcasing their cyber skills in an ultra-realistic simulation, the contestants started by investigating a data breach at a fictional shipping company, later fending off live-cyber-attacks and building up evidence in order to convict the perpetrator: a corrupt executive with ties to a crime syndicate.

PwC is a corporate supporter of the charity, and as a sponsor we previously hosted the 2016 Masterclass competition. As the PwC assessors, we evaluate contestants in competitions held by the charity throughout the year, where the finalists are invited to take part in the annual masterclass. The skills we assess against are representative of real life job requirements and are aligned to the industry standard NIST framework - these include technical computer science abilities such as defence and response, as well as soft skills such as teamwork and leadership. As organisations seek to enhance their defences against increasing cyber threats, these skills are highly sought after - many contestants go on to secure job offers from UK companies, including ourselves.

As a competition assessor, I also act as a mentor to contestants and support their journey into the cyber sector. Companies don’t just want to recruit talented technologists, they also need those who can understand business risks and can communicate them to management and leadership. Often contestants are not fully aware of the diverse roles available to them, so it’s great to dispel the myths about working in cyber, talk through experiences and give them career advice. Being an assessor has also helped us appreciate the importance of diversity within our teams, the firm, and the wider industry. We can’t solve every problem with technology, and the contestants are a great example of that fact.

According to a recent (ISC)2 study, the UK is facing a growing cyber security skills shortage, meaning organisations will face an increasing struggle to find qualified talent as they seek to expand their security teams. Through facilitating competitions, the Cyber Security Challenge is a key platform to address these critical problems - by identifying and shaping the next generation of cyber professionals. Additionally, only 11% of women currently work within our industry in the UK - something I am personally invested in changing. As someone who entered the profession from a non-IT background, I remain driven about raising awareness of this fascinating work environment. Providing an engaging route into industry where there are few traditional pathways is also making the sector more accessible - especially to those who are not aware of the opportunities available to them. Supporting the Challenge is just one of the ways we’re tackling these problems head on with our industry peers and clients.

For anyone looking to put their skills to the test, the UK Cyber Security Challenge runs online and face-to-face competitions available for anyone, but only those who don’t already work in industry are eligible to progress past the online contests.