Given the recent spate of hacking incidents a timely report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has highlighted that a lack of skilled workers is hampering the UK’s fight against cyber crime.The spending watchdog had heard from experts who believe it could take “up to 20 years to address the skills gap”, it said in a report.
But progress has been made in tackling cyber fraud, with more police resources and prosecutions aimed at catching cyber criminals, the NAO added.
The government said it was “investing heavily” in research and education.
The number of IT and cyber security professionals in the UK has not increased in line with the growth of the internet, the watchdog said.
In 2011, ministers announced funding of £650 million to implement the UK’s Cyber Security Strategy, which set out the risks of the UK’s growing reliance on cyber space.
The strategy identified criminals, terrorists, foreign intelligence services, foreign militaries and politically motivated “hacktivists” as potential enemies who might choose to attack vulnerabilities in British cyber-defences.
In a review of the strategy, the NAO said there had been an number of developments to help tackle cyber crime.
The internet economy in the UK accounts for more than £120 billion – a higher proportion of GDP than any other G20 country, the NAO said.
But it warned that the cost of cyber crime is estimated to be between £18 billion and £27 billion a year.
Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre, received 46,000 reports of cyber-enabled crime, amounting to £292 million of attempted fraud, the report said.
And the Serious Organised Crime Agency had captured more than 2.3 million compromised debit or credit cards since 2011, preventing a potential economic loss of over £500 million.
New regional police cyber crime centres and a trebling of the size of the Police Central e-crime Unit had also helped boost the UK’s capability to combat attacks, the watchdog said.
But the NAO warned that the UK faced a current and future cyber security skills gap, with “the current pipeline of graduates and practitioners” unable to meet demand.
Education officials interviewed by the NAO said it could take “up to 20 years to address the skills gap at all levels of education”.
They raised concerns about a lack of promotion of science and technology subjects at school, leading to a low uptake of computer science and technology courses by university students.