The University of Sunderland is introducing a master’s degree programme to help in the struggle against cybercrime.

The university’s new MSc Cyber Security course will equip the next generation of security experts with the skills vital for an era which is seeing a massive growth in online criminality.

According to a 2015 study, hackers cost British businesses £34 billion per year. In 2016, British businesses were subject to 230,000 cyberattacks, with more than 90% originating from outside the UK. 

The opening of the National Cyber Security Centre at GCHQ in Cheltenham last month shows that cybercrime is now a top priority for the British government. In just the last three months, 188 known cyberattacks have been committed against the British state.

University of Sunderland Graduates to Help Fight Cybercrime
Cybercrime costs British businesses over £30 million annually (photo from North Shore Bank)

There will be places for 25 students on the MSc Cyber Security course, which will begin in September 2017. The curriculum will draw on the university’s expertise, innovation and research in the cyber security field.

Last Year, the University of Sunderland was one of just eight UK higher education providers to be awarded a Development Fund grant (worth £29,000) from the Department of Culture, Media and Sports to implement a teaching method called Problem-based Learning in the cyber security area.

Professor Alastair Irons, academic dean of computer science and the lead for the Development Fund project, said, “There is a huge demand for cybersecurity graduates, and we believe our MSc will help address that skills gap.”

“The course has been designed in collaboration with various security agencies, with heavy input from major technology employers including Accenture, SAGE, PWC and Net-Defence.”

Professor Irons went on, “The threat has never been greater. As a nation, we are defending attacks from everywhere. It’s a cyber war of pandemic proportions and is never going to stop, no matter how much we defend and prepare, it’s always going to be there.” 

“Whether it’s nation state attacks, the hacking of large corporations or an individual’s credit card becoming compromised, no one is immune from becoming a victim.”

“We have designed our programmes to prepare an army of cybersecurity experts as the technology develops.” 

Cybersecurity is now also an important part of the University of Sunderland’s undergraduate computer science programmes.

Professor Irons added, “We are working closely with government agencies, businesses and industry to address the skills gap and build the region as a cyber centre with Sunderland at its core, (creating) information we will be able to feed back to the new National Cyber Security Centre.”

The university’s Faculty of Computer Science has also been working with the police forces of Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland to develop and evaluate a platform which shares information about cyber threats in the North East.

University of Sunderland Graduates to Help Fight Cybercrime
There were 230,000 cyberattacks on British businesses last year (photo from JacksonClerk)

Detective Sergeant Martin Wilson, the cyber protect coordinator for the north-east region, said, “Technology is a force for good and is changing the way we live our lives.”

“However, there are elements in our society who seek to take advantage of our growing use of the internet and exploit vulnerabilities in networks and endpoint users.”

“The motivations for cyber criminals are numerous and varied, but predominantly it’s about making money by holding data to ransom and making extortionate demands.”

“Multi-agency partnership working has always been vital in the fight against crime. Cyber sharing is absolutely key in mitigating cyberattacks.”

Research by the University of Sunderland suggests that women may play an especially valuable role in tackling cybercrime in the coming years.

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