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Apprentice urges other youngsters to put cyber skills to good use

June 9, 2021
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A 23-year-old is learning how to legally break into computers as part of a Nottinghamshire Police apprenticeship that will equip him with the skills to protect the public and the force from cyber attacks.

Joshua Freeman started the cyber security apprenticeship in February and one part of the training programme has involved penetration testing – an authorised cyber attack on a computer system to test an organisation's IT defences.

He has also been learning how to investigate real cyber attacks against individuals and businesses. Joshua is encouraging other young people to put their digital skills to positive use, rather than drift in to criminality.

With cyber skills improving with each generation, Joshua says some young people find themselves in possession of a skill set which can lead to cyber crime.

But with the world crying out for more cyber security professionals – a role which pays well and comes with excellent job security - he is urging other young cyber enthusiasts to turn their hobby into a career.

He said: “I applied for this apprenticeship because it ticks all the boxes. I can develop my cyber skills and not get myself into any trouble. It can also lead to a lot of decent career opportunities.”

Joshua is spending two years with Nottinghamshire Police’s Cyber Crime Unit as part of his apprenticeship, which is designed to enable him to apply for permanent positions within the force in the future.

The unit investigates cyber-dependant crime or any offence that falls within the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

“There’s three types of hackers,” explained Joshua. "There’s a black hat hacker, a white hat hacker and a grey hat hacker. It comes from the old Western films. The goodies would wear a white cowboy hat and the baddies would wear a black one.

“The black hat hackers are doing it for criminal purposes such as personal financial gain.

“The white hat hackers are ethical hackers. They are hired by companies to find vulnerabilities in their IT systems so that they can be addressed.

“The grey hat hackers are in between. They will infiltrate a business and find holes, but then offer that information to the business for a price.

“Of the three, being a white hat hacker is the most reliable income. That’s because it’s legal and so it won’t be taken away from you.

“It also means you can tell your mum what you do!”

Research suggests one in four teenagers have tried some form of cyber crime but Joshua says many do not realise they are breaking the law.

“There’s a few kids who just like getting into mischief but most of the people who get into cyber just enjoy learning it. It’s the same as learning a new trick on a skateboard and showing it off. They like saying to their friends ‘look what I can do’.

“I think a lot of kids know they shouldn’t be doing it, but they don’t realise the severity of it. Kids like messing about – but when you start messing about with computers you can land yourself in a fair bit of trouble because of how connected they are. If you mess about in a classroom it’s a lot more contained.”

Joshua, who lives in Nottingham, explained why so many youngsters want to improve their cyber skills.“Cyber is almost a rebrand of IT,” he said.

“It’s a clever rebrand as it sounds pretty cool. I think things like the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017 and pop culture references like the Mr. Robot TV series have added to the cool factor.

“Computer Science is being taught in Year 7 now, so pupils are very IT aware nowadays.”

With that appetite unlikely to go away, Joshua praised the efforts of Nottinghamshire Police in trying to divert youngsters to use their cyber skills in a positive way and avoid criminal sanction.

The force does this through its Cyber Choices programme, which helps youngsters understand what is and isn’t legal, so that they don’t head down the wrong route to become a cyber criminal.

Joshua says it is an important programme as many young people are developing the ability to hack into computer systems.

He said: “You see a lot of script kiddies these days. They are kids who use existing computer scripts or codes to hack into computers as they don’t have the expertise to write their own. They’ll simply go on YouTube and watch a tutorial on how to do it.

“As a department, we’re trying to move kids away from that. Our message is you’ve clearly got an interest in cyber – why don’t you try and make a career out of it? That way you’ll learn more advanced skills that others won’t have.”

Detective Sergeant David Beach, of Nottinghamshire Police’s fraud department, said Joshua was already making a strong impression at the force.

He said: “We’re really pleased with Joshua. He’s very keen and eager to learn which is vital in any apprenticeship.

“He’s very self-motivated and is already having a positive impact within the team.

“Our role as a department is to assist individuals and businesses who have fallen victim to cyber crime and Josh is already demonstrating the star qualities required to flourish in the job.”

To find out more on how to explore a career in cyber security, visit www.nottinghamshire.police.uk/document/cyber-choices.

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