These days cyber security is one of the most important issues on governments’ minds, and it is pretty easy to understand why. Computer literacy grows with every generation, and today’s children will inevitably grow up to be both the next generation of talented IT sector workers, and the future generation of cyber criminals and hackers.
I for one, am always astounded at the ease with which a five year old child can make their way around the internet, and am amazed to see their little fingers working a tablet through the Android menu with more ease than their mother or father can. Of course, while most children will grow up to be able and knowledgeable consumers of computer technologies, there is always going to be those really ‘geeky’ children that fully immerse themselves, and end up with the rarer skills necessary to become a real success in the IT world.
Computer programing is in many ways comparable to the imagined practice of esoteric witchcraft – it has a language all of its own – and it gives people the ability to create tangible results. That is always going to appeal to some young minds, and the fact that coding is in no way a forbidden (or occult) knowledge means that a thirsty mind can indeed find the materials it needs to become either the next Steve Jobs or the next Kevin Mitnick.
This elevated level of computer literacy is a double edged sword – yes, the IT sector requires brilliant minds to be the next generation of devs (according to the industry group Code.org, computing jobs will more than double by 2020, to 1.4 million), but the government also knows that cases such as that of the twelve year old Canadian hacker who brought down government websites for Anonymous (in exchange for computer games), are also going to keep growing.
They know that if such an innocent mind can get into places that it shouldn’t, then there is bound to be others coming with a strong will to hit agencies like GCHQ or the NSA in the future (or any of the other nefarious, intrusive and totalitarian government intelligence agencies around the world), and they know that those people will be doing so with much more understanding and ability too.
With this in mind, it will not come as a huge surprise that the UK’s biggest intruder in to peoples’ private lives, and main intelligence agency, GCHQ (also best buddy of that other center of pestilence the NSA), has got a plan to make sure it stays at the forefront of its sector, by directly tapping in to our greatest minds, before they get a chance to go renegade.
Our friends at GCHQ have decided to start running a summer school for young people gifted in IT, with the hope of finding the next generation of coders that it can employ in its quest to know everything about everyone, at all times. After all, as more people learn to use VPN services and anonymity networks such as Tor, GCHQ knows that it is going to have to work even harder to keep tabs on us all, if it is ever going to keep a handle on terrorism, er, I mean its reign of terror.
In order to fill the 70 available places at their summer school in Cheltenham, GCHQ will be interviewing first and second year university students from all over the country who can demonstrate an advanced ability in the coding of at least one computer programming language, guaranteeing themselves the pick of the crop of British University students.
Successful candidates will not only get to study at the summer school for free (it is normally usual to pay for further education in the UK), but will actually get paid £2,500 each, and be given free accommodation for the pleasure, so the incentives are huge, and students who these days have to struggle with large fees will likely have been applying en mass.
The cost of paying seventy students that wage is a hefty £175,000, and that is before GCHQ foots the bill for their accommodation, never-mind the lessons themselves. Strongly highlighting just how important this project is to GCHQ and the British government – they want our best young minds – and they are willing to pay for them.
From what GCHQ is disclosing about the lessons, we know that they will be taught not only by GCHQ’s in house cyber security experts, but also by guest speakers from leading areas of the information technology industry… the official goal being of course to identify potential future recruits to aid in the UK’s fight against online terrorists, fraudsters, hackers and organized crime syndicates,
‘The unique Cyber Insiders Summer School offers computer science students a fantastic opportunity to enhance their cyber skills and to discover how GCHQ uses a variety of technologies to protect the UK… They’ll not only enhance their cyber knowledge, but completing the program will also look good on their CV and, if they prove their abilities, we may even offer them a job interview.’
As we can see from that quote, however, what they are actually doing is looking for future employees, so this ‘summer school’ is in fact a recruitment drive, not an educational opportunity – any young person that thinks otherwise is a fool – what they are going to in Cheletenham is not a summer camp, but an interview for a job – with the devil.
Sure, for the 70 applicants that make it through the selection process, the summer school is bound to be an exciting and interesting course to attend – with ethical hacking, penetration testing and mobile technology all on the course itinerary, it certainly would seem that the experience will bolster these young academics’ CV’s, and considering the cost of the bill for GCHQ, one can only assume that the applicants that succeed in impressing the security agency this summer will indeed be offered golden handshakes for jobs on completion of their degree – well paid jobs that they will unfortunately probably accept.
On the other hand, GCHQ’s plan may go wrong, and a few disgruntled students who do not find employment this summer may be inspired to become the real evil cyber-criminals of the future (after all that is how it always works in the comic books,) or perhaps,if we are lucky, a few ethically minded young people who are aware of the Snowden leaks and of GCHQ’s involvement in the illegal hacking of the British public are simply applying to infiltrate their enemy and see what they can learn about them… OK! OK! I suppose that is probably a fantasy… but we can always hope, cant we?