What is the UK’s Cyber Security Challenge And Should You Take It?

The demand for cyber security skills is reaching a crisis point in the country. Considering that UK business leaders see cyber attacks as the “most dangerous” risk for businesses in 2018, there has never been a greater need for more people to develop their skills in cyber security than now.


One of the public initiatives to address this urgent problem is the Cyber Security Challenge UK.

What is the Cyber Security Challenge UK?


The Cyber Security Challenge (CSC) UK is a set of events and programmes held across the country. Its main goal is to encourage more individuals to become cyber security professionals, whether they already have solid core competencies or are completely new to the concept.


It is a not-for-profit organisation supported by the UK government and sponsored by private companies.


The events include online and face-to-face competitions with numerous age and skill brackets, educational boot camps that present possible career development paths, and mentoring programmes.


The organisation also partners with primary and secondary schools to bring more awareness of cyber crime and security to children aged 10 to 18 years old. For college and graduate-level students, it provides qualification and apprenticeship opportunities through programmes like the Extended Project Qualification.

The Cyber Security Challenge UK Today


Since the organisation’s creation in 2009, the lack of hard data tracking–which would prove the programme’s overall value–has been a constant issue despite its success in getting people interested in the field.


Current CEO Colin Lobley has admitted as such, stating that:


“We need to get a lot better at tracking those who we engage with; I don’t think we’ve been very good at tracking and engaging all those people we speak to… The social media outreach is positive and we know we’re having an impact – we just haven’t been good at tracking the data, we need to do more.”


In addition to better performance metrics, Lobley is working on expanding the scope of career paths the organisation helps to develop (e.g. risk management, legal cyber security). The organisation is also looking to add more security information resources, and being more inclusive with their target audience.


One of the latest government programmes in bolstering the country’s cyber security skills is Cyber Discovery, which is run in conjunction with CSC UK. Started in 2017, this programme aims to build a strong foundation of interest in cyber security within the 14- to 18-year-old age bracket.


According to CSC UK Head of Education Debbie Tunstall, “With a critical skills gap looming and the cybercrime threat growing, we need to educate about cyber security while individuals are still young; piquing their interest in future cyber careers and as a result, filling the pipeline of talent.”


She further adds that the CSC UK “has years of experience in dealing with people in this age group and providing fun and educational face-to- face events and we’re delighted to bring our expertise to this innovative programme.”

Why Take the Challenge?


Apart from the skills and career opportunities you can earn from participating in the CSC UK, the competitive, gamified environment is highly conducive to learning, especially in the field of cyber security.


McAfee reports in a 2018 survey that 96% of organisations that implemented gamification achieved tangible benefits. The survey also revealed that 57% of the respondents believe gamification increases awareness and understanding of information security breaches.


The competitions that CSC UK holds incentivises individuals to perform at their best under pressure. They also provide avenues where social interactions are possible, allowing for teamwork and communication skills to be honed. These abilities are crucial to the real-life application of cyber security solutions, and they are not as easily developed in the traditionally passive classroom lecture setting.

Complement Your Cyber Security Education


While the CSC UK presents an innovative learning method to becoming a cyber security professional, it is but one of the many ways.

Take advantage of the shared resources and unique opportunities it offers, especially with integrating yourself into the wider community of IT experts. Do, however, use it to complement your overall educational experience with cyber security courses to further advance in this industry.

What does an Ethical Hacker do?

There is a stigma attached to the word ‘hacking’ and for very good reason. Hacking is associated with the malicious and unauthorised intrusion into a computer or network from an outside party or system with the express aim of stealing, sabotaging, damaging, compromising systems, software or data. As individuals who can undertake such an operation, often without leaving any trace of their identity or origin, hackers are highly experienced and skilled, often with a background in coding and programming.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the area of cyber security known as ethical hacking (also referred to as penetration testing), what ethical hackers do and exactly when and why hacking can ever be ethical.

When is Hacking Ethical?

Hacking becomes ethical when its purpose is to identify the risks and vulnerabilities of a given system or network to outside attack. By attempting to bypass a system’s security measures, ethical hackers can expose inherent flaws and then deploy effective countermeasures and fixes to improve the system’s overall cyber security. For this reason, ethical hackers must be able to put themselves into the shoes of a would-be cybercriminal or cyber terrorist in order to best try to outwit the target system’s security.



what does an ethical hacker do


Because ethical hackers use the same techniques as malicious hackers, many are often themselves reformed hackers, who have been headhunted by security agencies or the IT security departments of large companies. In this sense, ethical hacking is inherently the same as malicious hacking in its methodology and practice. Crucially though the end goal is one of exposure and not exploitation.

How does an Ethical Hacker help improve Cyber Security?

An ethical hacker’s first task is to seek to understand and learn how a system operates and its underlying cyber security measures. They will then research and meticulously document their attempts at bypassing that system’s security, before discussing their findings with those responsible for designing the IT security infrastructure, as well as senior management. The results of the investigations are then used by the organisation to fix any backdoors or vulnerabilities in their system. They will then work closely with the teams responsible for implementing these fixes, often to re-test them and identify any remaining vulnerabilities or unintended consequences.

In creating their methods and investigations, an ethical thinker must penetrate a system from a hacker’s perspective. While doing so, they must also keep in the back of their mind the real-world consequences of the possible cyber security attacks. ‘What would an attacker do? Bypass first-level security? Make illegal wire transfers? Steal customer information? How can the system not only prevent but quickly identify and recover from such malicious attacks?’

The ethical hacker must perform his hacking through an open process where managers and the IT team collaboratively know their system’s vulnerable points and how to counteract high-skilled malicious attacks.

Information security, the industry where ethical hacking belongs to, is still young and developing. There is a significant lack of knowledge of what ethical hacking is and what its results should include. Because of that, the roles, responsibilities, and tasks of an ethical hacker can vary greatly from day to day.

How to become an Ethical Hacker

The job market for ethical hackers continues to grow, along with the cases of cybercrime that organisations are subjected to. It can go by the titles of Information Security Analyst, Security Consultant, or simply Ethical Hacker. In the UK the average annual salary of an ethical hacker / penetration tester is £37,442.

Whilst there are no mandatory qualifications for becoming an ethical hacker, successful candidates will have a strong background in coding and programming and several years’ experience working in IT or IT security.


certified ethical hacker course


For those wishing to pursue a career in penetration testing, it is recommended that a foundation course in IT security like the CompTIA Security+ and Network+ qualification, ISO27001 Foundation courses. For those with experience in IT security, the Certified Ethical Hacker course is very relevant but more general cyber security courses can lead to a role in penetration testing such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). You may then consider specialising in ethical hacking by obtaining a more advanced certification such as the OSCP or Kali Certified Penetration Tester qualification.




One of the most important factors to become a good ethical hacker is to learn how a hacker thinks. Hacking is not all about technical knowledge. It involves tactical and strategic thinking, problem solving and a certain degree of creativity. As controversial as it might be to say it, the reason that some of the best ethical hackers in the world are former cybercriminals is that they have more experience than most of thinking like a criminal.

It’s likely if you’re reading this though that you don’t have a background in cybercrime and if that’s the case, then one way to demonstrate your propensity for penetration testing is to build your own testing environment in which you can practice and document your results. This will also help you learn in a simulated real world environment, giving you the vital experience that it is very hard to learn in a classroom.