Digital skills are critical for tackling the rising tide of cybercrime

The rising tide of cybercrime shows no sign of slowing. Whether it’s hacking, identity fraud or malware attacks, online criminals have proven themselves to be both relentless and ruthless. Targets have included public sector institutions, charities, even the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) was not spared.

In this challenging climate, it is unsurprising that police forces are facing extreme pressure to protect victims and take meaningful action against the perpetrators, who are hard to track down. It is clear that cybercrime is on the rise, with every indication suggesting the problem will get much worse, before it gets any better.

A recent investigation carried out by the think tank Parliament Street found a 14% increase in reported hacking crimes in the United Kingdom over the last two financial years. This is a worrying statistic, and yet it is worth baring in mind that this figure does not even take into account instances of malware and that many hacking crimes remain unreported by victims. This is because many victims are unaware that they should be reporting this type of suspicious activity to the police or don’t believe they will be able to do anything about it.

The main issue we’re facing is with advancements in technology, it is becoming exceptionally difficult for law enforcement alone to collect evidence and capture a criminal for prosecution. To even attempt to make progress on a crime of such a nature, law enforcement would have to co-ordinate with outside agencies, international partners and private corporations – an economically unsuitable method for catching a multitude of low to mid-level cybercriminals.

We must look towards other methods of preventing and avoiding the possibility of cybercrime taking place. This includes improving the digital capability of not just our police forces, but workforces in general across the UK. As a country, we need to work harder to ingrain these skills into school leavers and employees, so that everyone has a good grasp of the essential skills required to fight it.

Another method to this solution begins in the recruitment process. For a start, police and work forces could benefit by more effectively utilising the millennial and generation Z population; many of whom are more adept with modern technologies and have a better understanding of cybersecurity basics than their elders. A report from earlier this year, discussed the attributes of millennials in the workplace. It concluded that whilst there are considerable stereotypes around young workers being ‘lazy’ or having a ‘short attention span’, they are highly tech savvy, ambitious and a major talent pool.

Generally speaking, they also benefit from a better education than previous generations and have grown up using, and being taught how to use, much of the technology found in the workplace today. Therefore, employers in work and police forces must alter any preconceived stereotypes or negatives attitudes towards the ability, or inability, of a millennial or generation Z candidate.

When it comes to managing internal security, corporations handle vast amounts of important data every day and so it is vital that cybersecurity professionals, who are equipped with the relevant education and experience to handle the threat of more dangerous cyberattacks are brought in. Unfortunately, nine in 10 employers have been unable to recruit staff with the right skills as a result of the shortage of candidates with the correct STEM skills or those fitting into the digital skills gap. Therefore, it is essential that we continue encouraging children and young adults to pursue STEM-related fields of education to help fulfil these requirements. At the same time, closer synergy between corporations and academic institutions will help to ensure businesses in the United Kingdom are plugging their digital skills gap as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Retraining staff can be laborious and expensive, however, it is important that this process is continued and repeated often in order to ensure all members of staff are digitally capable enough to suitably reduce the risk of hacking and encouraging digital scams. To maximise the effectiveness of staff training schemes, corporations, SMEs and businesses must ensure that training is specific to the organisation – ensuring staff are trained and kept up to date on all software that is used, and reminded of the importance of basic safety implementations, such as using strong passwords and not clicking links in spam emails.

Other practical steps business leaders should adopt include, holding regular cybersecurity audits which tests the security of their own organisation and helps to locate weaknesses and vulnerabilities in any given IT system.

It is important that we, as a nation, act now to prevent further incidents of cybercrime and help to avoid it from growing and becoming the most popular form of criminal activity. With the collaboration of staff, the public, our police forces and academic institutions, we could soon see the number of cybercrime cases dropping and hacking to become less frequent.