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Skills for the neuro-diverse

Autistic people, people with Asperger’s, find it hard to fit in with society and to find jobs. The cyber security sector has a skills gap. Some are starting to see a way of doing something about both those issues at once. One of those is Dr Emma Philpott, pictured, who after speaking at the 3CDSE exhibition at Malvern yesterday spoke to Mark Rowe.

She wears (metaphorically speaking) more than one hat as she is the CEO of IASME, an accreditation body for the Cyber Essentials scheme; and is MD of the UK Cyber Security Forum, a community interest company. In passing in her talk at 3CDSE, she mentioned a training centre about to start in Worcester for neuro-diverse people. At first it’ll run for two days a week; volunteers from cyber security companies giving courses. Immersive Labs is donating use of its training platform (featured in our December issue). Commercial cyber firms will visit the trainees and they will visit firms. Another of the companies that spoke at 3CDSE, Titania, has given computers. “We have had so much goodwill, particularly from small cyber security companies,” Emma said. Why? It speaks for one thing about the ‘cluster’ of cyber and related firms, large and small, around the Malvern Hills, partly because in the district is the defence firm Qinetiq (which Emma Philpott used to work for) and GCHQ in Cheltenham. It’s also an example of how being community-minded makes commercial sense. We’re used to gender and race equality; neuro-diversity may be a new one for you, though Cranfield University recently ran a day about it. Briefly, autistic people find it hard to get jobs. They may find it difficult to communicate and may feel anxious socially and in the workplace. Yet some of the very things that define autism – an obsessive focus, and ability to see patterns – may actually make them, or some, particularly suitable to do cyber security and threat analysis.

To return to Emma Philpott, then. Her aim is to give autistic trainees workplace skills, and individual training plans: “If they have a particular problem with something, we can help them with that.” The ultimate aim; to get them into commercial jobs. Autism is still being researched – causes and ‘cure’ (if indeed that’s the correct way to approach the spectrum of autism) are still not fully understood. But just as women are no less intelligence than men, so autistic people are as intelligent as anyone else; they can appreciate they are lacking in social skills, but may find life or work, the likes of prioritising and handling stress – too overwhelming. Autistic people, as Emma pointed out, can be quite isolated; another reason for the training centre. She told Professional Security that the centre has funding for six months and is seeking funds to go for another six.

To give the autistic skills – for working in cyber, and more generally in being able to be around people – is only the first half of what Emma has in mind. The other half is to protect vulnerable people in cyberspace. A business would do that for itself typically through a security operations centre (SOC); but that comes at a cost. Here Emma points to Cyber Essentials, whereby a firm (particularly one that wants to do business with government) does quite basic computer housekeeping, to bring in controls to keep at bay most of the cyber threats out there. Emma’s hope is to set up a cloud-based SOC, that the neuro-diverse trained could staff, using open source software to give cyber protection to those with learning difficulties, the elderly and others in care homes, and victims of cyber-crime who feel too frightened to go online again.

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More on the 3CDSE event in the July 2018 print issue of Professional Security magazine.


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