GCHQ watches over cyber security degrees

GCHQ, the UK’s surveillance agency, is to offer official certification for master’s degrees in cyber security.

March 30, 2014

According to a briefing sent to universities this week, there are now a “significant number” of master’s degrees run by UK higher education institutions with cyber security content, making it difficult for students and employers to understand the differences between courses.

Fred Piper, emeritus professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, was formerly leader of the information security group at Royal Holloway, which offered the first cyber security master’s in the UK. He has been working with GCHQ to develop the criteria for the new certification.

“When we launched our masters in 1992 it was unique,” he said. “Then cyber security became a buzzword, and now there are courses everywhere.

“Some are very good, while some are good but do not really focus on cyber security. At the moment there’s no way of knowing which courses are strong - there are so many qualifications out there, that when people ask which course they should take, it is very hard to say.”

Universities that offer an existing master’s in the discipline are invited to apply for full certification, while those with courses that will be operational by October 2015 are eligible for a provisional stamp of approval.

A briefing document gives an outline of the topics that should be covered by a master’s degree that deemed to be providing a “general, broad foundation in cyber security”. They include information security management; operational security management; and audit, assurance and review.

The move is part of the government’s wider UK National Cyber Security strategy, which states that the UK needs to ensure it has “the cross-cutting knowledge, skills and capability it needs to underpin all our cyber security objectives”.

As part of the strategy, GCHQ – in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and the Office of Cyber Security and Information Assurance – has already certified two Centres for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security, which were opened at the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway in May last year.

“There’s a whole bunch of things that we are trying to do as part of the strategy,” said Chris Ensor, deputy director for the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance at GCHQ. “We are working with schools at GCSE and A level, there’s stuff going on in terms of apprenticeships, and in terms of getting cyber security subject matter into degrees. Master’s degrees are the next step on the journey.”

For more information on applying for certification, click here.


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