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British spy network GCHQ runs all-female classes to recruit women hackers

Almost 90 per cent of cyber-skills workforce worldwide is male, according to National Cyber Security Centre

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 17 January 2019 13:19 GMT
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First footage from inside GCHQ

The GCHQ intelligence service has set up all-women classes in a bid to diversify recruitment for online security experts.

Almost 90 per cent of the cyber-skills workforce worldwide is male, according to GCHQ’s cyber-defence arm, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

A report last summer revealed the intelligence community is still not gender balanced – at senior level in particular – and fails to mirror the ethnic makeup of modern Britain.

“There is a glaring lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff at senior civil service levels across the community,” it said.

The security services require gifted employees to address the mounting threat of cyber-attacks and has raised concerns around recruiting from a narrow pool of individuals who possess the necessary computer skills.

During this month alone, the NCSC has highlighted threats to hack smart TV devices, cyber-attacks on information about German politicians and the theft of insurance and legal documents which relate to the 9/11 terror attacks.

There will be 600 free places on all-female CyberFirst Defenders courses in April and May this year. They will be run as a combination of residential and non-residential training events – with venues for the four-day courses including Edinburgh, Nottingham, Lancaster, Wrexham, and Oxfordshire.

Chris Ensor, the NCSC’s deputy director for skills and growth, said: “Women only make a small proportion of the global cyber workforce and throughout GCHQ and the NCSC we are looking to address the imbalance.”

Mr Ensor said he wanted to appeal to the “inquisitive instincts of young people”.

He noted that increasing numbers have been participating in their training courses.

The NCSC said about 35 per cent of its overall staff and half of its senior leadership are female.

They are keen to make cyber-skills lessons more accessible to teenage girls in a sphere that has been accused of having a stereotypically male image.

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Last summer’s report stated only GCHQ have any black or Asian people in the senior category. However, after its publication, MI5 wanted to point out that ethnic minority members have moved to senior positions in the last year.

Dominic Grieve, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said at the time: “In an increasingly competitive employment market, it is important that the UK intelligence community is able to attract, and draw upon, the skill, talent and experience of all sectors of our society – to reflect, protect and promote our values, and keep our nation safe.

“It is essential that these organisations reflect the UK of today with a diverse and inclusive workforce. Diversity encourages challenge, drives innovation and ensures better decision making – whilst this is important in any organisation or sector, it is an operational imperative for the intelligence community.”

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