Ethical hackers help make businesses cyber safe

From left, computing students alongside Martin Wilson, Stephen Leach and Lizzie Buckler from the NEBRC and lecturer Shahrzad Zargari

Computing students from Sheffield Hallam University will be testing just how well-prepared local businesses are for potential cyber-attacks by attempting to hack into their IT systems.

The students are part of a group of ‘ethical hackers’ – specially-trained to attempt to bypass online security systems in order to identify potential threats or weaknesses, which could be exploited by real-life malicious hackers.

The group of nine students have now been employed as cyber security consultants for the newly launched North East Business Resilience Centre (NEBRC) – a non-profit organisation which supports and helps protect businesses across the North East from cyber-crimes.

The NEBRC is a partnership between Sheffield Hallam and Northumbria universities and police forces in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, Humberside, Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria.

It brings together the latest information on cyber-crime legislation, criminal trends, threats and new technology, providing the best advice to safeguard businesses, their staff and customers.

The students will now be matched up with local businesses where they will spend time carrying out vulnerability assessments of businesses’ networks and web applications to identify any weaknesses in IT systems and computers.

They will then produce a report outlining the steps which need to be taken to protect the business from real-life attacks.

Luke Jamieson, a second year cyber security student said: “I’m hoping to open my own cyber security consultancy in the future, so I thought this would be a fantastic opportunity  to start building a network of contacts and give me a head start when I finish university.

Shahrzad Zargari, course leader in computer security with forensics at Sheffield Hallam, who is leading the University’s involvement in the NEBRC, said:  “We are really excited to be a part of this pioneering project which has potential not only to increase the resilience of local businesses but also provide students with an opportunity to put their knowledge and skills to use in the real world.

“It builds on the work our Hallam Forensic Society has been doing with local firms, offering specialist services in relation to cyber security and the skills that they have developed throughout their studies.”

“By combining our skills and expertise in cyber security with the insight and networks of our regional police forces we can help local businesses to protect themselves from cyber-attacks.”

Superintendent Rebecca Chapman is the director of the NEBRC. She said: “We are delighted to be able to work with our local universities to reduce cyber-crime.

“Often SMEs can’t afford cyber services and don’t know where to begin or who to trust. The creation of NEBRC helps us bridge this gap and, through the students, offer a reduced cost and practical services which can make a huge difference.

“It’s also a fantastic opportunity for the students to gain hands-on experience which will be invaluable when they enter the world of work after graduation.”

Businesses interested in becoming involved in the NEBRC can visit for more information.


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