Teenagers set for cyber security training to defend UK against attacks
Thousands of teenagers will be given intensive training in cyber security to boost Britain's defences against online attacks.
The scheme forms part of the Government's efforts to guard against a future skills shortage amid mounting concern over the damage hackers or terrorists could inflict on the country's economy and infrastructure.
Security experts have warned the UK faces a growing threat from cyber attacks and the danger has been underlined by allegations about Russian interference in the US presidential election.
Officials say the new Cyber Schools Programme aims to support and encourage schoolchildren to develop some of the key skills they would need to work in cyber security and help defend the nation's businesses against online threats.
Ministers are making up to £20 million available for extracurricular sessions which will see expert instructors drafted in to teach, test and train teenagers selected for the initiative.
A "cyber curriculum" will be drawn up to mix classroom and online teaching with real-world challenges and hands-on work experience.
The scheme - led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) - is aimed at those aged between 14 and 18, with a target for at least 5,700 teenagers to be trained by 2021.
Although the move was welcomed by the NSPCC, the charity said that children also needed to be taught how to protect themselves.
Claire Lilley, head of online safety at the NSPCC, said: "Plans to offer lessons in cyber security to school children can be part of the first crucial steps in preparing young people for the challenges and opportunities online.
"Children should also get lessons in how to keep themselves safe online, as soon as they first start using the internet. That can cover anything from using judgment about what's safe to post online, to reporting inappropriate content or abuse.
"Education is the key to teaching children how to use the internet safely and it's crucial we include this in the curriculum as soon as possible."
Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: "This forward-thinking programme will see thousands of the best and brightest young minds given the opportunity to learn cutting-edge cyber security skills alongside their secondary school studies.
"We are determined to prepare Britain for the challenges it faces now and in the future and these extracurricular clubs will help identify and inspire future talent."
Participants will be expected to commit to four hours a week, with flexibility around exams and busier study periods.
The aim is for students to start at the age of 14 and complete a four-year course, although older teenagers will be able to join at any point providing they meet the right criteria.
DCMS is seeking providers to deliver the programme, with bids closing next month and a pilot launching in September.
The scheme is part of a wider drive to attract the cyber experts of the future. Last month teenage girls were invited to put their technology skills to the test in a competition launched by intelligence agency GCHQ.
Last week MPs warned that confidence in the Government's ability to protect Britain from high-level cyber attacks is being undermined by skills shortages.
The Public Accounts Committee warned the threat of electronic data loss from cyber crime, espionage and accidental disclosure has risen considerably in recent years.
In 2015, GCHQ dealt with 200 national security incidents a month - double the number it was handling in the previous year.
Last year the Government launched the National Cyber Security Centre, underpinned by a £1.9 billion investment to counter the threats.