How to become a cyberspy
The cyberspy has been a stalwart of thrillers ever since the birth of the web, but never before has there been such a demand for professionals to defend the nation’s networks.
Amid a wave of attacks from foreign states and unknown hackers, the Government last year committed an additional £650 million to cybersecurity – part of which will be spent hiring new recruits.
Le Carré-esque positions are opening up (see boxouts) at the very heart of the security services, from contractors that supply the Ministry of Defence, to staffers within GCHQ, MI5 and MI6.
They’ll be part of a global cyberwar in which adversaries probe other sovereign states looking for information, network topographies and vulnerabilities – with the West pointing the finger at China and Russia for the escalated threat level. GCHQ claims it receives more than 20,000 malicious emails every month.
At: GCHQ – Cheltenham (Salary: £25,446 – £31,152)
Requirements: Graduates with a minimum 2:1 degree in a related subject, or specialist knowledge gained from practical experience.
Responsibilities: Cyberspecialists will be involved in protection of government IT systems, research and development, discovering new threats, providing forensic, malware and intrusion analysis. Using technical expertise to pioneer solutions to complex problems, rather than just delivering to a specification and as a result, you’ll often need to combine your technical skills with an enquiring mind.
But what challenges will the next-generation spooks face? And what type of skill set are the security services looking for? We’ve talked to people close to the security services to find out.
The injection of government funding at a time when almost all other services are being cut reflects the importance placed on British cyber-intelligence, and both national security services and private contractors are crying out for skilled staff.
In the UK and elsewhere, opportunity is knocking for people who can identify vulnerabilities, analyse data streams or develop sniffing tools. At the time of writing, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) was looking for service desk analysts, systems group task managers, engineers for services systems, network and electrical engineers, and software development engineers.
GCHQ and MI5 are equally busy, recruiting a phalanx of information intelligence experts to staff two new cyberstations set up by the Defence Cyber Operations Group to meet the challenge of Britain’s silent conflicts.
The security services attempt to attract talent by playing up the importance of the roles, touting unique opportunities to hack and probe in the national interest, but they face competition from better-paid roles in the private sector. Experts suggest that staff could earn three times as much employed in private sector companies, but there’s still an undeniable pull to having MI6 on your business card.
“The Government has to compete realistically in that market, and won’t be able to do it by purely looking at remuneration packages. However, the Government can play up the different types of work available at some of these institutions, and that it’s pretty unique,” says Adam Thilthorpe, director for professionalism at the BCS, who’s been working with the services on their recruitment. “There’s also its impact – or potential impact – on the UK, which is incredible, and on the world as a whole, so it’s that side of things the Government needs to push to attract ability.”
GCHQ recently admitted that it was having to pay bonuses to retain civil servants being lured away by the private sector, with everyone from Google to defence contractors looking for qualified and experienced staff.