New AQA GCSE Computer Science arms students with cyber security knowledge

Thursday 28 May 2015

Students will learn about cyber security threats including malicious code, phishing scams and weak passwords in AQA's new GCSE Computer Science – which aims to help tackle a global shortage of cyber security expertise.

The draft plans for the new GCSE include, for the first time, an introduction to the most common forms of cyber crime. There are sections on social engineering techniques – which involve manipulating people to give up information – malware, misconfigured access rights, and unpatched and outdated software.

The AQA GCSE will equip students with an understanding of how to detect and prevent these threats. They will learn about biometric measures, password systems, email verification and automatic software updates. The course will also cover penetration testing (or 'pen testing') as a means of identifying vulnerabilities.

Steven Kenny, who leads AQA's Computer Science team, said: "Cyber crime is a growing threat. It's vital that our young people have the know-how to protect themselves. There will also be a greater need for cyber security professionals in the future and this subject will provide them with a knowledge of the basics on which to build.

"Our course isn't about getting students to regurgitate their knowledge in an exam, but helping them to really understand cyber security from the inside out - from both the point of view of a user and a developer of computer systems. The course will really help students to think about the implications and impacts of digital technology."

Students will also explore the ethical, legal and environmental impacts of digital technology on society, including data privacy – and the arguments for and against governments and security services accessing private data. Topics including algorithms, networks and software development will also feature.

Earlier this year, ISACA's Global Cybersecurity Status Report showed that 86% of business and IT professionals globally believe that there is a shortage of cyber security professionals. A study carried out by the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that UK employers need people with cyber security skills.

Tony Anscombe, Senior Security Evangelist at security experts AVG Technologies, said: "Teaching the next generation to be cyber security aware is a really important development. A lack of understanding around online security can lead to many issues – in the last 12 months we have seen major data breaches such as Sony, which might directly affect this generation of students. A major issue for this generation will be the ability to control data related to their identity and to manage their privacy.

"Teaching cyber security at GCSE will help to build an army of young people who have the knowledge and skills to combat the threats. These are skills that will be more important in the coming years and, as a result, more sought-after by employers."

Cyber security is a compulsory part of the new GCSE Computer Science following the government's recent reforms. The plans for AQA's GCSE, which will be available to teach from September 2016, are being submitted to the regulator Ofqual for accreditation.

Cyber security is also being introduced as a feature of a number of AQA's other qualifications – including its A-level and vocational Tech-level in ICT.