Australia at risk from cyber crime because of poor University curriculum

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

August 27, 2015

Windows 10’s surveillance capabilities make it obvious how corporations feel about our personal info, and also demonstrates just how valuable those firms consider it, and how far they will go to get it. That is because companies like Microsoft and Facebook know that details about our lives are a window into further revenue streams. Sadly, so do cyber criminals, who will also do anything to get it.

Now, the alarming worldwide growth rate of cybercrime has prompted experts from the Commonwealth Bank in Australia to call for a restructuring of how cyber security is taught in their Universities. The bank feels that less time should be spent on theory, and more spent teaching the practical skills needed to deal with the growing sophistication of hack technology, and cyber criminal ability.

If that does not happen, they fear that the current upsurge in hacking incidents is only the beginning.

In the US, there have been a number of high-profile attacks in a very short space of time – on both government and corporate targets – and these have made people everywhere get a bit edgy.  With evidence showing that cybercrime is a danger that must be addressed quickly, and Banks such an obvious target for criminals, it is only natural that they would want to encourage education to keep moderating and improving curriculums to keep up with the times.

At the University of Sydney in Australia, a computer security lecturer called Luke Anderson says that some of the problems originate in the fact that the Internet was designed with a low level of security. This, he argues, makes it easy for vulnerable systems to be pinpointed and exploited,

‘If you looked 20 years ago, it was extraordinarily easy to break into computer systems. Today, in 2015, it’s much harder than it was even five years ago to break into stuff, but it’s still quite achievable because there are a lot of technologies that are hanging over from times past.’

With awareness of cyber threats on the rise, governments and corporations are doing their best to arm themselves with the defences they need. The same is true of people at home. The bad press generated by the snoopy side of Windows 10 reveals that more and more people are waking up to privacy issues, and doing their best to protect themselves.

In Australia, Federal Government estimates that over the next five years the need for computer security experts will grow around 20 percent. With that in mind, improvements in how Universities teach their youngest and brightest to tackle the problem may also be advisable.

David Whiteing, the chief information officer at the Commonwealth Bank, believes that corporations and governments are already letting the cyber criminals get ahead,

‘It happens’ he said when asked.  ‘This is a fact. So what people need to realise is that the cyberspace is highly specialised, it’s highly collaborative, and it’s highly unregulated – all conditions that allow them to move very very rapidly.’

In his opinion, the most efficient way to combat cyber attacks is by gaining a better understanding of how they are carried out, but he says there are just not enough people around that can. ‘If you do the analysis globally, there is a cyber skills shortage,’  he said.

It is for this reason that the Commonwealth Bank has been working hand in hand with the federal government of Australia to make the country an exporter of cyberattack specialists,

“It’ll come back to a long-term strategy around encouraging school children to be taking up the subjects that will allow them to go do STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at university, it will involve apprenticeships, it’ll involve scholarships and prizes, and it’ll involve corporates like ourselves thinking creatively about how we work with the universities to pull through their talent and give them the real life experience that’s required,” Mr Whiteing said.

According to the University of Sydney lecturer, it can’t happen too soon, either. Because as opposed to the extra 9,100 new cyber sec experts that the federal government estimates are needed in five years, Mr Anderson feels they are needed now,

‘The industry as a whole is absolutely starved of talent, which is why a young person like myself can teach at a university because universities can’t get anyone else. By getting into the universities and really showing the students why stuff is getting broken into, how you can code better so that this doesn’t happen, how to introduce these mitigating factors, we’re going to be able to protect ourselves from the security issues of tomorrow.’

For now then, it would appear that Australia is ill-equipped to cope with rising cybercrime levels. With alarming hacks coming left right and centre in the US and the UK, however, the question is, do Universities worldwide need also to step up their curriculums? If they are going to cope with this ever increasing threat?


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