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Graduates In Cyber Security And AI Are Highly Sought After In Job Market

The types of people who are well suited to cybersecurity are those who have a wide appreciation for both the human and technical aspects of computing.

Graduates with skills in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence are currently in high demand due to an acute shortage. Graduates with these skill sets are in such short supply that the likes of Google and Apple are poaching PhD students from universities before they even complete their studies. The big tech firms offer large salaries with attractive benefits where perks such as working flexibly from home are frequently an expectation rather than a bonus. One of the great advantages of these two disciplines though is the fact that they are very interesting in and of themselves. 

Students studying Cyber Security can expect to learn how to hack into computer systems, often in competitive environments, so they can learn the skills which hackers are using to enable them to develop defences for organisations. Penetration testers are frequently engaged by companies to try and break into their systems by identifying a wide range of different weaknesses.  After breaking into the company’s systems, they will examine what information they can exfiltrate and then draft a report for their customer on how to secure the system.   

Other graduates of cybersecurity work in a purely defensive role in a company’s Security Operations Centre, where they monitor live streams of data trying to spot the early signs of an attack.  By monitoring logs, including detection systems and a wide variety of sensors, analysts can spot anomalies which an attacker will leave enabling them to act proactively to protect the company’s network. 

The types of people who are well suited to cybersecurity are those who have a wide appreciation for both the human and technical aspects of computing.  Often you will need to report to board level managers on one day whilst writing computer programs to analyse logs on another.    

If you are interested in getting started, then starting to play online CTF (capture the flag) competitions is a good way to understand what skills would be useful to learn whilst also sharpening the discipline-specific aspects of these skills.  A typical CTF might require you to break ciphers that have been used to encrypt messages or bypass website login pages. Often the person who gains access to the most systems or who completes in the shortest time scores the most points.  We have in recent years started to see companies offering CTF challenges as part of the recruitment process where they will not interview candidates unless they have reached a certain level. 

Artificial intelligence also features many of the competitive elements that are described above.  The discipline focusses on building computer programs that can achieve some of the tasks that humans have typically been quite good at but computers have been quite poor, such as recognising speech, the understanding context in messages, or recognising images.  In the news, we see artificially intelligent machines playing games such as Go beating world-class competitors. 

The discipline of artificial intelligence covers a wide range of different techniques, but the one which has received the most attention in recent years is deep learning.  Computer neural networks emulate the brain in the sense that they have a large number of interconnected neurons each doing very simple tasks but collectively achieving something complex.  In recent years, because of the rising computing power, it is now possible to have much deeper and more interconnected neural networks than we have seen in the past and it is this which has led to the explosion in solutions to traditionally hard problems. 

Artificial intelligence is not immune to hacking either because one can train to neural networks to compete against each other - each trying to fool the other. For example, to produce deep fakes you would program one neural network which can discriminate between a genuine photo and a fake one, and then another which would try to create fake photos which will fool the discriminator network. The two networks then spend many days playing against each other improving in their capabilities, after which a network evolves which is very good at generating pictures which look realistic.  For example, the website thispersondoesnotexist.com has trained one such network which accepts a set of numbers (describing facial features), randomly generated, and then produces a realistic-looking face based on its previous knowledge – a realistic face of someone who does not exist.   

In the past, self-driving cars have used a range of hand programmed algorithms to recognise the road and pedestrians to steer the car but more recent revolutions such as Tesla use neural networks which have learned from hundreds of thousands of hours of real drivers in cars fitted with sensors.  Tesla cars learn from their previous mistakes too, so whilst you let your car drive itself it has the collective knowledge of more miles than you could have driven in your lifetime. 

Of course, artificial intelligence also has a wide range of other applications, such as detecting cancer on radiological images, processing photos of printed receipts without human effort, and recognising license plates. At present, artificial intelligence is one of the most quickly evolving fields in the discipline of computer science as it seems most years big breakthroughs are being made. 

In common with cybersecurity, the discipline of artificial intelligence also has competitions to build the best AI with Universities and companies competing against each other from around the world. For example, Kaggle is a popular online platform for competitions, where participants are challenged to build better neural networks than those before them. Competitions range from detecting anomalies in medical images through to understanding the context of a tweet on Twitter. 

The University of Portsmouth is based on the south coast of the UK and is a student-focused University which puts you first. The island of Portsmouth is city rich in naval history where the University plays a very large part in the local economy.  We offer courses both in Cyber Security and in Data Science and Analytics (AI). Our cybersecurity course frequently receives 100% per cent student satisfaction and our data analytics course, whilst too new to have a satisfaction score, is led by world-leading academics who are active researchers in this field.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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