Creating a new way of building cyber skills in our university
29 March 2023
PwC’s Dr Nia Evans has played a crucial part in developing our award- winning master’s programme in Cyber Security and Technology. She now joins the University as an Honorary Senior Lecturer.
At PwC in Wales, Cardiff University’s master’s in Cyber Security and Technology is on the agenda every week. Dr Nia Evans, one of their Cyber Experts who helped create it and now an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the School of Computer Science and Informatics, dedicates a chunk of her working week to writing, delivering and reviewing the modules to bring an ongoing industry perspective and practice to the programme.
“There is, we know, a massive skills gap across the UK, not just in Wales. We’d suggest 50 jobs for every person qualified to take them,” explains Dr Evans “At PwC we were running training in house before the master’s became available, but this programme has been a game changer and each year it’s getting even better.”
The master’s programme was launched in 2021 with the Cardiff Capital Region City Deal fully funding 45 students over three years, the first 15 graduated, the second 15 in progress and now with a further 15 invited to apply to and join the programme at the university’s state of the art teaching and research labs in the university’s £39m Abacws building. The university has been recognised as an Academic Centre of Excellence by the National Cyber Security Centre at GCHQ, and the master’s programme has already picked up the Best Academic Programme at the FinTech Awards last year.
“Dr Evans’ involvement here at the School of Computer Science brings something really special to this post-graduate course and the students on it,” explains Dr Yulia Cherdantseva, who leads the programme. “She brings an essential, invaluable industry perspective - a direct line to what’s happening on the ground - so as students transition from studying into work they are bang up to date with the most relevant information.”
Dr Nia Evans completed her doctorate in Advanced Persistent Threat Detection in Computer Network Defence and is a Senior Manager on PwC’s Ethical Hacking team, while leading cyber training in the company.
“The way Cardiff are working with industry on this programme is unusual,” she says. “There are plenty of companies who want to help support academic programmes, but a once-in-a-blue-moon visit to a university isn’t always enough in this fast-changing world. The team at Cardiff have created a more direct link between their work and industry, and I think it’s a model for the future.”
How does the course work?
The course is delivered by world-class cyber security researchers and industry practitioners and combines theory (giving students a solid understanding of underlying technologies, their weaknesses and how they can be efficiently secured) with a significant, hands-on component of practical application.
More specifically it teaches techniques such as network traffic analysis, network enumeration, port scanning, network segmentation, prevention of injection attacks, prevention of common web-app attacks (injection attacks, XSS, CSRF), secure configuration of cloud-based IT environments. The students learn to perform digital and network forensic investigations and analysis using modern forensics tools and software packages. And, of course, it underlines the human-factors affecting cyber security, privacy issues, cyber security legislation and regulations.
What do the students gain?
“I’d specialised in Cyber while I was studying Computer Science at the School,” says Ellis Doran. “This course allowed me to dig deeper. For example, I was exploring potential security weaknesses in Smart Plugs. It was a fantastic course and has led me into a PhD at the School looking at automated defence systems for operational technology.”
For Esther Pearson the master’s led her into a cyber-focused graduate engineering role at Airbus in Newport. “The course is challenging, but it wasn’t long before I was hooked,” says Esther. “It was a light bulb moment. I could hardly believe this was something I could do every day of my life. While I’d covered cybersecurity as an undergraduate, the detail on the master’s programme, combining theoretical knowledge with practical skills in subjects like forensics and malware and cryptography, was something else. You have a chance to do research in collaboration with industry partners and a university supervisor – and there are internationally recognised cyber security researchers based in the School. It led me to a fabulous job in a place I love to work.”
“This programme is addressing a skills shortage and will foster the growth of the emerging cyber security cluster in this region by developing and retaining the finest cyber security talent in Wales,” adds Dr Cherdantseva.
“Businesses across the UK are waking up to the threat and the need to build their resilience,” she says. “The experts who are already coming out of this programme will play an important role in making that happen, and act as a catalyst for new cyber security companies emerging in or relocating into Wales.”
If you’d like to find out more about the final fully funded places on this course and have a 2:1 (or above) in Computer Science or related discipline, contact Dr Cherdantseva at Cherdantsevayv@cardiff.ac.uk.