Government and industry partners collaborate to deliver advanced cyber security skills to school and tertiary students
Over 10,000 students from around the country race to liberate a naval vessel and captain from a simulated cyber attack
SYDNEY, March 16, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Grok Academy, a not-for-profit charity advancing computing education, today announced the launch of Cyber Live, a virtual industry event where more than ten thousand school students from around Australia participated in a dramatic simulated cyber-attack on Australian targets. The event was officially launched by the Hon Andrew Hastie MP, Assistant Minister for Defence, together with a wide range of industry partners, including ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac and BT, as well as new sponsors The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Amazon Web Services (AWS), and FifthDomain.
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Cyber Live is the culmination of the Schools Cyber Security Challenges (now called Cyber STEPs) which is a $3.8 million national project. Today’s launch challenge involved thwarting a simulated yet realistic cyber-attack on a navy vessel and the kidnapping of military personnel as part of a broader ‘Mass Infrastructure Attack’ (MIA). Students representing more than 200 schools from each state and territory in Australia had the chance to grapple with a host of simulated threats ranging from social engineering, to hiding data in images, cracking computer codes, tricking applications, stealing data and listening to communications.
Kicking off the launch, The Hon Andrew Hastie MP, Assistant Minister for Defence spoke about the significance of Cyber STEPS: “This is an exciting partnership between Grok Academy, government, industry and education, and it’s the largest project of its kind in Australia. I’ve often spoken of cyber security as the new battlefield. We often talk about war being fought on sea, in the air, or on land. But space is a new domain, and cyber is a new domain. And if you own a phone, a computer, or a tablet – you’re on this new battlefield. It is a chilling fact that you don’t need to bomb a city to bring it to its knees. We never want to see a cyber Pearl Harbor in Australia. I know that Grok Academy’s courses have taught thousands of students and teachers around Australia these important steps in uplifting our cyber defences. Cyber security is a team effort and we all have a shared responsibility to lift our nation’s cyber defences. I thank Grok Academy for bringing all this together.”
Impact To Date
The project launched in February 2019 and Phase One reached over 170,000 students, 46 per cent of whom were female. The project’s efficacy has been established through a recent survey conducted by Grok Academy which found that 77 per cent of students believe that the Cyber STEPS challenges gave them an understanding of personal cyber security risks. The project also sparked considerable interest in cyber security as a profession, with 22 per cent stating that they would consider a career specifically in this field. From an educator perspective, the survey found that over 80 per cent of teachers believe that the Cyber STEPS challenges gave their students insight into the role cyber security plays in industry, while over 90 per cent found the resources helpful in delivering the Digital Technologies curriculum.
In 2022 Phase Two of the Cyber STEPs initiative will further enhance the cyber security capabilities of young Australians entering the workforce, through appealing and true-to-life activities for primary, secondary, and now tertiary students. The project aims to create a cyber-enabled student body and encourage participants to pursue a lucrative career in cyber security, which commands salaries 20 per cent higher than in other technology fields.
This year Cyber STEPs will bridge the gap between basic and advanced cyber security skills, as seen in the Cyber Live MIA challenge. The focus of the launch day challenge aligned with the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Cyber Threat Report 2020-21, which found that 25 per cent of cyber incidents reported to the ACSC were associated with Australia’s critical infrastructure or essential services, including health care, food distribution and energy sectors. This and other findings have highlighted the vulnerability of infrastructure to significant disruption of essential services, as well as lost revenue and the potential of harm or loss of life.
The Cyber STEPs Team and Expertise
With extensive experience in school and tertiary education, the Cyber STEPs team brings curriculum and teaching expertise to the project. To address the complex needs of these sectors, the new Cyber Challenges will be aligned with curriculum outcomes at both the school and tertiary levels. A review of the current and future threat landscape identified a need to incorporate a stronger emphasis on a range of technical cyber security skills related to analysing scams and phishing attacks, digital forensics and cyber investigations, Unix tools and system administration, and network configuration and hardening. Australian students will develop more sophisticated cyber security skills and dispositions in the newly designed version 9 of the Australian Curriculum, and the Cyber STEPs activities directly cover this new content.
Addressing the Cyber Skills Gap
The Cyber STEPs project also addresses the critical need for schools, government and Australia’s business sectors to meet the immediate skills shortage. In March 2022, AWS released the Australian findings of a new research report developed in collaboration with consulting and economics firm, AlphaBeta, titled “Unlocking APAC’s Digital Potential: Changing Digital Skill Needs and Policy Approaches”. The report estimates the number of workers in Australia requiring digital skills will need to increase by 3.7 million more workers over the next year alone – representing 29 per cent of Australia’s total workforce. The research also found that cyber security will be the second most in demand skillset by 2025. Similarly, a Cybersecurity Workforce Study by (ISC)2 in 2021 found that the number of cybersecurity professionals currently needed in Australia is 25,000. Cyber STEPs therefore plays a critical role in engaging Australian student interest in pursuing studies and careers in cyber security and closing the skills gap.
Speaking at the launch, Dr. James Curran, CEO of Grok Academy, and one of the authors of the ‘Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies’, stated: “Cyber STEPs will grow the skills pipeline through high-impact national cyber competitions, cyber hunts, and authentic technical Challenges. Cyber STEPs will enable a wider audience to step from cyber novice to professional by developing their technical skills and confidence.”
“Building on the considerable success of Phase One of the project, Cyber STEPs will provide Australian schools and tertiary students with an awareness of career opportunities in cyber security, and the chance to develop fundamental skills that prepare them for success in technical cyber security roles across multiple industries. It will also provide support, resources, and engaging classroom activities to educators with limited technical knowledge, so they feel confident in the quality of the learning experiences for their students,” Curran added.
Security leaders from ANZ, ASD, AWS, BT, CBA, FifthDomain, NAB and Westpac participating in the launch, explained how Cyber STEPs plays a critical role in improving students’ cyber safety whilst also addressing the continuing cyber security skills shortage and the growing threats to critical infrastructure and essential services (see quotes below).
ANZ: Lynwen Connick, CISO, ANZ: “There is a great deal of mystique and misconception around cyber,” Lynwen Connick said. “In reality, it’s actually fun, interesting and incredibly important. Given how varied cyber security is, I would encourage women in particular to consider a career in cyber security and take the opportunity to either reskill, or in the case of younger women to think about a cyber security course. Cyber STEPs is a great way for students to discover how cool cyber is, and we are thrilled once again to partner with Grok Academy, industry and government in 2022.”
ASD: Abigail Bradshaw CSC, Head of the Australian Cyber Security Centre, ASD: “In 2020-2021, approximately one quarter of cyber incidents reported to the ACSC targeted critical infrastructure or essential services. ASD is proud to partner with programs like Cyber Live and Cyber STEPs, working together to create a workforce with the ability to keep Australians and Australian networks secure, and essential services operational. ASD offers many pathways for students to begin their cyber careers; either directly out of school, through our graduate program, or while continuing their studies at TAFE or University using avenues like our work experience and internship programs. I encourage anyone wanting a career in cyber to visit our website and apply at ASD.gov.au/careers.”
AWS: Phil Rodrigues, Head of Security, APJ, AWS said: “AWS is proud to be a sponsor of Cyber Live and would like to acknowledge and congratulate all students who participated in the challenge. Last year, AWS released findings from a report ‘Unlocking APAC’s Digital Potential: Changing Digital Skill Needs and Policy Approaches‘ that found that cyber security will be one of the top five in-demand digital skills sought by employers by 2025. Programs like Grok Academy’s Cyber Live and Cyber STEPs are developing a strong pipeline of diverse, cyber security talent to address Australia’s current and future needs for cybersecurity tools and talent.”
BT: Kevin Brown, Managing Director, BT Security said: “BT’s recent research on the changing role of the CISO found that security leaders are not only dealing with an alarming growth in the rate of cyber threats, but also taking on a far wider set of critical responsibilities across their respective organisations. This means comprehensive, multi-faceted cyber security training is crucial for both current security professionals and people looking to start a career in the industry. Programs like Cyber STEPs help participants understand how they can begin careers in cyber security and develop the skills and talent that can help keep governments, companies, and individuals safe and secure online. We are excited to support the second phase of the program, which is part of BT’s wider ‘Skills for Tomorrow’ initiative to shape a future generation of digitally savvy young people.”
CBA: Keith Howard, CISO, CBA said: “As Australia’s largest bank, we believe cyber security is a foundational skill required across all industries and we recognise the need to invest to keep Australia secure. Cyber is everyone’s business. Whether you’re an individual, a parent, a small business owner or a large corporation; an understanding of how to protect yourself online must become the ‘new normal’. That is why we need a cyber-enabled Australia and why Commonwealth Bank is a strong supporter of Grok Academy’s Cyber STEPs project and building cyber-safe communities.”
FifthDomain: Matt Wilcox, CEO and Founder, FifthDomain said: “The cyber skills shortage is detrimental to businesses and governments thriving in a digital economy, but equally important are the biases that candidates experience when trying to get into the cyber workforce. At FifthDomain, we believe that the first step to increasing the amount of cyber talent is removing false rejections from the hiring process and broadening the pool of skilled candidates based on merit and skills, such as problem-solving, creativity, and communication skills. We’ve placed candidates from a variety of backgrounds and skillsets – from a tank crewman to a sporting coach. Therefore, the solution to solving our problem isn’t hiring more people from the existing pool of candidates, it’s about expanding the pool and redefining what cyber professionals look like.”
NAB: Sandro Bucchianeri, CSO, NAB said: “NAB is proud to be a part of Grok Academy’s Cyber STEPs program helping to equip the next generation of cyber professionals, by instilling lifelong cyber security culture and skills, both in the workplace and in the home. As Australia continues to face a cyber security skills shortage, this partnership will help to inspire more young Australians to consider a career in cyber security and technology and contribute to uplifting cyber security maturity across the country.”
Westpac: Richard Johnson, CISO, Westpac said: “Westpac is proud to support Cyber STEPs to help inspire young people to pursue a career in cybersecurity and to improve online safety in the community. Our longstanding graduate program has been running for two decades and has seen more than 65 graduates join our security community on a permanent basis. This year Westpac introduced a specialist cybersecurity graduate program, as part of our overall technology graduate offerings. Beyond helping people move into cyber roles, we have also recently partnered with national identity and cyber support service, IDCARE, to deliver cyber resilience outreach clinics to remote and rural communities to build greater awareness of scams and provide training around safe cyber practices.”
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources: Please visit the website.
Background and Funding
The Cyber STEPs programme complements Grok Academy’s existing work to deliver classroom activities and teacher professional development that support the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies. Cyber STEPs will include free interactive teaching resources, immediate intelligent feedback, automated marking and professional development for teachers. In 2021, the industry partners contributed $1,964,769 of funding for the programme, which the Department of Industry (through the Cyber Security Skills Partnership Innovation Fund) matched with a contribution of $1,813,025, bringing the total to $3.77m.
For more information on Grok Academy and Cyber Live, please visit the website
 Secondary to Tertiary Education Partnerships
 Schools Cyber Security Challenges Student and Teacher Survey 2021
SOURCE Grok Academy