Called the Cyber Explorers programme, the new scheme will use characters, quizzes and activities to show students in the UK how digital and computing skills can open up a range of different career paths including social media content creation, sports technology and medical research, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) announced on Wednesday 23 February 2022.
Rolled out across secondary schools as part of a government plan to create a more diverse and highly skilled generation of talent for the country’s growing cybersecurity industry (and to address current skills gaps), the programme will reach thousands of children and offer them the chance to learn the cybersecurity skills used by intelligence agencies. Topics to be covered include a range of cybersecurity concepts such as open-source intelligence, digital forensics and social engineering.
Speaking about the scheme, Cyber Minister Julia Lopez said, “For years the UK has led the world in cybersecurity, but we’re now looking ahead to the future. This sector is home to some of our most exciting, innovative jobs and they must be open to everyone.” She added, “Cyber Explorers will give thousands of young people the opportunity to learn digital skills they need for the modern workplace and get the best possible start on their journey towards a career in cyber.”
While the news may seem minor to some, the UK government previously revealed that girls and pupils from low socioeconomic backgrounds are currently underrepresented in IT courses at GCSE and equivalent levels. In that sense, the Cyber Explorers programme has been designed to engage students just before they choose their subjects at those levels, with the aim of improving the diversity of those on computer science courses.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay said, “The UK’s cybersecurity industry is going from strength to strength and we must continue to unlock the opportunities it brings to our economy by investing in the right skills and training. Cyber Explorers is a fantastic opportunity to encourage a new generation to learn the essential digital skills they need for the future and get the best possible start to their careers, as well as meet demand for future talent in the sector.”
Such a scheme won’t solve the problem fields like the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) industry still faces when it comes to increasing gender, racial and ethnic diversity but it might be a step in the right direction.
Commenting on the announcement, Agata Nowakowska, AVP EMEA at Skillsoft, an educational technology company that produces learning management system software and content, outlined: “The cyber skills gap has been growing exponentially for some years, but recent digital acceleration has put pressure on businesses to deliver, manage and secure new platforms. This latest government initiative is an encouraging step in the right direction for creating a skilled and diverse pipeline of talent for the UK’s fast-growing and in-demand cyber security industry.”
She continued, “While schools play a vital role in inspiring interest in STEM and building core capabilities—it is up to industry and businesses to maintain and build upon this, to think of new ways to inspire students by showcasing the exciting possibilities of a career in cybersecurity. Mentorship, training programmes and initiatives will be key in attracting and developing the tech pioneers of the future. And, as the war for talent intensifies, never has it been more crucial to develop skilled and adaptable employees who are ready to face the ever-changing nature of work.”
Many of the South Florida shootings that took place towards the spring of 2021 were triggered by gang wars, law enforcement officials said at the time. While gang activity is nowhere near as prevalent in South Florida as it is in South California, it’s also a well-known fact that Miami-Dade County has one of the highest gang populations in the country and the second-highest on the entire East Coast. What’s changed since then, however, is what gangs are fighting over—guns and drugs are out, and rivals are now trying to outdo each other when it comes to performing identity theft.
Reporting on the newly revealed shift, Forbes mentioned the example of Geno St. Flerose, a teenager the Miami police said was a member of the Everybody Eats street gang. When searching his home in August 2018, they discovered three notebooks full of other people’s personal information (names, dates of birth, bank account numbers and social security numbers) and a to-do list in which number seven was simply “fraud.”
Shortly after that, investigators revealed that St. Flerose was buying stolen data online, saying in one text message he was after “some of that black market shit” and was directed to the Russian site PlusCC. The young man currently faces various charges for identity fraud, murder and assault with a dangerous weapon.
Everybody Eats, along with its rival Little Haiti Vulchas, are infamous violent drug gangs. And while narcotics might not be so much of a focus anymore, the homicides are still piling up. “They’re using data stolen by Russian hackers and peddled on Russian-hosted sites like PlusCC to take control of other people’s bank accounts, sign up for benefits in someone else’s name, scam government programs like Medicare or the Covid-19 Paycheck Protection Program, buy weapons, rent cars and take vacations in luxury resorts,” Forbes wrote.
In South Florida, it’s pretty simple to draw a line from Russian cybercrime to US street gang killings and frauds. It’s become a real epidemic. “Fraud is the new dope,” said Armando Aguilar, criminal investigations chief at the Miami Police Department. “Fraud committed by gang members is a nationwide problem, but as with all things fraud, Miami is at the forefront.”
There currently isn’t any national data that breaks down exactly how much street gangs are reaping from white-collar crime, but law enforcement sources told Forbes the trend started about ten years ago and is still accelerating. The most recent figures show crimes related to identities stolen by data breaches rose to $3.3 billion in 2020 from $1.8 billion in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
As for 2021, the numbers are expected to be even higher, given the jump in COVID-19-related fraud. After the US federal government rushed in to help businesses and individuals with COVID relief money over the start of the pandemic, police noticed a jump in identity theft, fake companies being set up and huge amounts of money being transferred to the bank accounts of gang leaders.
Fast forward to 2022, and Little Haiti Vulchas, for example, is using one of the biggest sources of stolen data, a site called Blackpass. According to a search warrant application from the FBI and the Secret Service, communications between two alleged members of the crew, Jerry Vernelus and Erick Cadet Junior, discussed using Blackpass data for a ‘jwett’—slang describing an easy way to make illegal money.
Blackpass is believed to be run by Russian cybercriminals. Since its founding in 2012, it has built a reputation as one of the largest hosts of stolen banking and PayPal logins, as well as personal data like social security numbers, with each data point going for $1 to $5. The website has been gaining popularity since another allegedly Russian-run site, Slilpp, was knocked offline by a global law enforcement operation in the summer of 2021.
Compared with PlusCC, Blackpass is gigantic, Forbes noted. Over its four-year lifetime, PlusCC offered just 410,000 cards, according to Group-IB, a Singapore-based cybercrime company. Blackpass operators, on the other hand, have the largest cache of stolen usernames and passwords in the world, reaching into the billions of items, Alex Holden, chief technology officer of Hold Security, told the publication.
Though the alleged gangsters are making comparatively small sums, the Russians supplying them with stolen data are handling hundreds of millions in illegal transactions, causing huge financial damage and getting extraordinarily rich. And as you would expect from individuals on the black market, they’re pretty hard to unmask.
Meanwhile in Miami, regardless of the fact that there seems to be plenty of evidence available to prosecutors, current and former police officers explained it’s often not worth it to put gangsters in prison for fraud, largely because single frauds aren’t big enough, even if the overall cost is significant. Furthermore, neither the victims of cybercrime nor the police have the resources to track down every case. In a twisted way, law enforcement would probably have more incentive to chase down fraud if the results of the crimes were bloody.