UK suffering from IT talent shortage

A lack of skilled IT security professionals in the UK could prove costly as the internet is open to constantly changing threats and it could take 20 years to make up for the shortfall.

The National Audit Office (NAO) says the number of specialised staff in the area has not kept up with the growth of the internet and has been told by education and business experts that the current stream of graduates will not satisfy the demand.

The head of the NAO Amyas Morse described the cyber security threat as "persistent and continually evolving" and, although the government has put an extra 650 million into its National Cyber Security Programme, he says improvements are needed.

"Business, government and the public must constantly be alert to the level of risk if they are to succeed in detecting and resisting the threat of cyber attack," he added.

Cyber crime costs the country somewhere in the region of 27 billion per year and the Serious Organised Crime Agency has caught over 2.3 million compromised debit or credit cards since 2011, ensuring over 500 million was not lost.

However, the NAO says that education officials think it may take "up to 20 years to address the skills gap at all levels of education" and it is warning ministers that this issue needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

People are needed as psychologists and law enforcers as well as technical staff and the NAO's report on the strategy for cyber security cites government departments that are worried the country is dependent "on a small number of highly skilled people".

"Interviews with government, academia and business representatives confirmed that the UK lacks technical skills and that the current pipeline of graduates and practitioners would not meet demand," it added.

"Interviewees were concerned about a lack of promotion of science and technology subjects at school resulting in the reported lower uptake of computer science and technology courses by UK students."

The shortage of IT and computer science specialists is far from completely new and retaining talent is also a worry as the Intelligence and Security Committee highlighted GCHQ's inability to keep experts from leaving for the private sector last year.

The NAO has also indicated that the government will find it difficult to prove that its multi-million pound strategy has been a success as the desired result is for nothing to happen and it will have to measure outcomes against that.

Copyright Press Association 2013