It's a cloak-and-dagger world often associated with 'spooks' and hackers, but Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead MSP heard how GCU is now equipping hundreds of graduates with the cybersecurity skills increasingly demanded by industry.
Head of Cybersecurity and Networks, Dr Jackie Riley, was joined by recent graduate Andy Gill and third-year student Maria Khokhar at a Scottish Parliament reception organised by Universities Scotland. They met the Minister, who took up his post in September, and briefed him on the multiple applications of this growing discipline.
Andy Gill was one of 10 students to graduate from the University's first cybersecurity programme in 2014. Now there are almost 400 students within the programme, at undergraduate, Masters and Graduate Apprenticeship levels. Andy is working for PenTestPartners, a specialist consultancy helping companies test the integrity of both their software and hardware. "I break stuff for a living," says Andy. "The security of our devices and networks is becoming increasingly important in many aspects of our lives. We're doing a lot of work with the automotive and maritime industry and I'm currently fully committed to projects until the middle of next year. It's a very interesting job."
"We are giving students the chance to develop their knowledge, practical skills and the all-important Meta skills while they study," says Dr Jackie Riley. "As well as their course material, there are growing opportunities to work with industry partners, for example helping businesses assess their own computer and data security through the Cyber Essentials programme. We have 63 students who are approved QG certified Graduate ACE prectitioners who are able to go out and work with firms to evaluate and advise if they are protecting themselves from even the most basic cyber threats, which many of them are not." This initiative was supported by a local company IDCyber Solutions.
The University has recently invested £50,000 to upgrade their virtual lab environment which allows students to access lab materials remotely, so they can develop their skills wherever they are. "It's fantastic, I can keep practicing from home," says Maria Khokhar, who is also president of the GCU Ethical Hacking Society. "There are so many ways for students to get involved, including challenges where we compete against other universities to solve problems and improve our ranking. It was good to meet the Minister, and to hear he is interested in how more women can be attracted to courses like mine. Gender shouldn't be a barrier."
The theme of the Universities Scotland event was how students are being equipped with the skills they need to succeed in our rapidly changing world. Meeting the GCU delegation, Mr Lochhead said he'd been impressed – if not a little scared, after hearing examples of some of the potential areas vulnerable to cyber attack. "It's good to see our Universities are rising to challenges like this. I'm looking forward to visiting Glasgow Caledonian and learning more about this and the other aspects of research and study when I come on to campus soon."