The UK's computer security industry is turning to a series of games and tournaments to try to find people with potential cyber crime-fighting skills in a sign of its desperation to find fresh talent.
The government's Cabinet Office and a number of large computer security companies, including Qinetiq, Sophos, PWC and the SANS Institute, will next week launch the Cyber Security Challenge, an open competition in which any UK citizen can pit their wits against the best cyber fighters in the industry.
The prizes on offer include thousands of pounds worth of bursaries for university courses and internships at large companies.
A first, pilot competition last year saw more than 4,000 people taking part. It was won by Dan Summers, a 33-year-old postman from Wakefield. Runners-up included a 17-year-old college student and a professional actor. The winners received a total of more than £37,000 ($58,000) worth of tuition and training.
"I have been interested in computers since I was a wee kid, and I always wanted to get into the security industry, but I thought it was a closed door," said Mr. Summers, who had been forced to abandon a degree course in computer science after his father became seriously ill.
"I couldn't see an entry-level job in the industry, everything required security credentials, which you couldn't get unless you were already in the industry. It seemed a case of chicken and egg."
Mr. Summers was inundated with job offers after his victory and is now in advanced discussions to join one of the companies that approached him.
"Even the guys who only made it to the first semi-final stages of the competition have got jobs out of this," Mr. Summers said.
The search for new cyber security professionals follows warnings from chancellor George Osborne earlier this month, that government offices such as the Treasury were being bombarded with cyberattacks on a daily basis.
The government allocated $1.02 billion additional funding to fight cyber crime last autumn, indicating how tacking online crime had become a priority issue. However, 99 per cent of computer security companies surveyed last year said they could not recruit enough people for the work they were doing.
"Recruitment is at a very difficult level," said Judy Baker, director of the challenge. "Many companies are telling us that they have had to turn down business because they did not have enough people."
Ms. Baker said the trouble was that computer security jobs were not well understood. Many of them have been kept secret because of the confidential nature of the work.
"Unlike accountancy, where there is a very straightforward route into the profession, for cyber security there are many different routes and they are not well understood. We are trying to create a better awareness of the profession."
The competition starts with a series of online games testing people's skills. Those who make it through will go on to semi-finals held at the technology labs of large security companies.
Ms. Baker said that while a certain level of technical skill was needed for the challenge, the organizers were also trying to find people who were able to "think outside the box" and to learn and react fast.