Britain will seek to emulate Israel’s elite development programme for cyber security experts by funding students with talent in the area through university, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.
The students will be given £4,000 a year to study relevant science, technology, engineering or maths courses and will have to work during vacations and years out with the government or cyber security companies.
They will then have to work for the government for a minimum of three years before the financial support is written down.
Mr Maude said the scheme would draw heavily on Israel’s Talpiot programme and would provide a “vital pipeline” for cyber talent.
In a statement to the Commons, he said: “Our new Cyber First scheme will be an elite development programme for the next generation of UK cyber security talent.
“It draws heavily on Israel’s hugely successful Talpiot programme which I saw first hand on a visit to Israel in November.
“Talpiot provides the state of Israel with formidable cyber security skills and is also the seedbed for a fertile array of new businesses.
“Israel has partly as a result now more start-ups per capita than any other country.”
Mr Maude also announced three joint UK-Israel cyber research projects, with similar schemes to go ahead with Singapore later this year.
The Tory minister said Kent and Surrey universities had been added to the list of centres of excellence status in cyber research.
Mr Maude said: “We have to worry about cyber security because of the growth and development of the internet over the last 20 years.
“This internet with an amazing power to change people’s lives for the better.
“Cyber is a huge opportunity as well as a threat. Britain’s cyber security sector is worth over £6 billion a year and employs some 40,000 people.
“We are on track to double cyber security exports to £2 billion by next year. Our aim is to increase to £4 billion by 2020 and we will promote more regional clusters to support more British cyber businesses.”
Shadow cabinet office minister Chi Onwurah welcomed the Cyber First pilot.
She said demand for cyber security experts was growing at 12 times the rate of the overall job market, adding: “It is vital we train and equip more people with cyber skills.”
But she asked how GCHQ would continue to function effectively in the context of the cuts announced by the Chancellor in the Budget last week.
She also accused the Government of neglecting small businesses, saying half of SMEs had not even heard of its cyber security efforts.
And she claimed consumers had been left to fend for themselves because of a lack of strategy to deal with crime online.
She added: “I couldn’t help but notice this statement was somewhat light on actual policy announcements. A cynic might think the minister was rushing out a half-baked announcement to use up time.
“It is almost as if they are scrambling around for something to say in order to give the impression they have made real progress in rising to what is one of the greatest challenges of the digital era, but also one of the greatest opportunities for UK business.
“The UK can lead in cyber security … but it will take skills for all, the many not the few, for small businesses, for citizens as well as big businesses.
“It will take a Labour Government to ensure we have that.”
Mr Maude said decisions on funding for cyber security would be detailed in the next spending review taking place after the election.
But he added: “I don’t know anybody who believes that there is any possibility that there will not continue to be very significant funding for cyber security.
“We are actually in the lead in this across the world … but there’s always a danger when one says that of being thought to be complacent.
“We are not remotely. This is a very fast moving set of threats and we have to move even faster to keep up with it. We need to be on the case all of the time.”
Reacting to Ms Onwurah’s assertion the statement was light on policy, Mr Maude said: “This Government has elevated cyber security to be treated as one of four tier one national security threats, quite rightly.
“We take it enormously seriously. At a time when we had to cut public spending because of the appalling budget deficit inherited from the last Government, this was one of the very areas where we decided it was sufficiently important to invest further money.”